WASHINGTON — After finishing a four-game homestand with a third victory Friday night, the Washington Capitals said they haven’t been as good as recent results suggest.
The NHL-leading Capitals won despite another slow start, and they think their 17-point lead over their nearest conference rival is providing a motivational challenge.
“It’s human nature, when you know you’re in a good spot and you don’t need to push it,” said Ovechkin, who scored his league-best 40th goal. “But as soon as they score one goal or two goals, it’s ‘OK, we have to wake up and play our game.”
If not for their late rally, the Capitals would’ve suffered consecutive defeats in regulation for the first time this season. As it was, all four games of this homestand were decided by one goal, and the visitors scored first all four times.
“We haven’t been at our best in a few weeks, and we’re realizing that and fixing it,” Holtby said. “This time of the year, it’s always tough to stick to those little things that make you successful.”
Orlov beat Kuemper on a weak backhander from a bad angle, sliding the puck under the goalie’s pads after a nifty between-the-legs deke to get past Niederreiter.
“That’s a tough time of the game for a goal like that,” Kuemper said. “You open up just a couple inches and it finds a hole.”
Niederreiter put the Wild ahead 2-1 early in the second, but Minnesota lost its third straight to remain four points back of Colorado for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.
The Wild also succumbed to a winning goal in the third period for the second time in as many nights after falling to Philadelphia on Thursday.
“We can’t let it get us down,” Wild interim coach John Torchetti said. “I loved our team game today. I thought we played a great road game but didn’t get the results that we deserved, and that’s all we can do.”
Ovechkin tied it 2-2 early in the third and just 29 seconds into Washington’s first power play. He took Matt Niskanen’s cross-ice pass and drove his slap shot from deep in the left faceoff circle between Kuemper’s blocker and right pad.
NOTES: Regular starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk was scratched for Minnesota a day after he appeared to injure his left leg in a second-period collision in Philadelphia. He may have been given the night off regardless. Dubnyk is 0-4 in the second of back-to-back games when starting both. … This is the sixth time Ovechkin has been the league’s first player to 40 goals. The only others to accomplish that are Bobby Hull and Phil Esposito. … Koivu’s goal pushed Minnesota’s franchise record streak of scoring road power-play goals to 10 games. … Washington D John Carlson missed the game with a re-aggravated lower-body injury, coach Barry Trotz said. He previously missed a stretch of 12 games with the injury from late December to mid-January.