Toronto at Washington

Ward, Ovechkin lead Capitals past struggling Maple Leafs


WASHINGTON -- When he found out he was getting his first start in seven weeks, Michal Neuvirth felt the same way he did before his NHL debut.

Anxiety. Nerves. Butterflies.

That first start, five seasons ago, went well for the Washington Capitals goalie and so did Friday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs as he made 32 saves in a 3-2 victory.

"I was nervous, couldn't really sleep before the game," Neuvirth said. "I was feeling like I was as nervous as my first NHL game. My girlfriend told me just do what you do and try to be good."

Neuvirth was just that, giving up just two goals, both on deflections. In his first NHL game, Neuvirth had 31 saves in a 5-1 victory over Tampa Bay.

"I thought he played a great game, I really did," Washington coach Adam Oates said. "First period, I think he had some shots that allowed him to get into the game, which is good for him. After the second goal, he made a fantastic save that saved the game for us."

Neuvirth's work paved the way for Joel Ward to score the go-ahead goal with just over 8 minutes left in the third period, and Alex Ovechkin added a goal and an assist. Nicklas Backstrom also scored as the Capitals won on back-to-back nights for the fourth time this year.

It was the fourth straight loss for Toronto after a 3-2 victory over Detroit on Jan. 1 in the Winter Classic, and the Maple Leafs have been outscored 21-7 in the defeats. James Van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel each had a goal and an assist.

Coming off a 6-1 loss Thursday night at Carolina, Toronto saw some positives in the defeat.

"This might be one of the better games we've played in a month. We showed desperation. We showed that we care," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We've been begging, pleading, kicking, kissing, whatever we can do to try and find a way to play with some confidence. It seems like we've squeezed our sticks here. It's mind boggling."

Kessel's team-high 21st goal gave Toronto a short-lived 2-1 lead in the third when his shot went off the stick of Washington defenseman Karl Alzner and over the shoulder of Nuevirth.

The Caps got the equalizer in similar fashion with 15:24 left as Backstrom's severe-angle shot went off the skate of Maple Leafs center Jay McClement and past Jonathan Bernier (32 saves) for his 11th goal.

"A little lucky," Oates said. "Their second goal, Alzy breaks a stick on that deflection. A little lucky, so we're even."

Ward's winner, his 13th of the season, came with 8:10 left, 6 seconds after Toronto had killed a penalty, as he fired a slap shot from 15 feet out on a pass from Marcus Johansson.

"I was a little upset at first cause the way it kind of came off my stick," Ward said. "But I kind of got enough to actually go in."

After that, Neuvirth kept Washington in command, making his final save with 12 seconds left.

The last time the 25-year-old was set to play for the Capitals, on Nov. 29, he suffered a leg injury in warmups. He had not suited up for a game since. With the Caps playing their second of five games in a span of seven days, Braden Holtby struggling and rookie Philipp Grubauer coming off a taxing 4-3 win Thursday night at Tampa Bay, Neuvirth made his first start since Nov. 22.

In the absence of Neuvirth, Grubauer (6-2-3) emerged as perhaps the team's most reliable goalie, prompting Neuvirth to request a trade last month.

"I've been watching a lot of hockey from the press box," Neuvirth said. "I haven't seen the puck for some time. Probably would be tough if I get scored on in the first couple minutes, but I didn't want to think about it."


Washington D John Erskine had an eventful second period, drawing a pair of penalties for fighting. The scraps were against Cody Franson and Colton Orr.

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC is strictly prohibited.
Alex Ovechkin, left, scores a goal and adds an assist in Washington's 3-2 win over Toronto. (USATSI)
Alex Ovechkin, left, scores a goal and adds an assist in Washington's 3-2 win over Toronto. (USATSI)
Toronto (21-20-5)0112
Washington  (22-16-6) «0123
Three Stars
M. Neuvirth

Saves: 32
Save Pct.: .941
A. Ovechkin

Goals: 1
Assist(s): 1
J. van Riemsdyk

Goals: 1
Assist(s): 1

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Scoring Summary
06:39 - Alex Ovechkin (33), Slap Shot. Assist: Grabovski, Green
09:08Power Play - James van Riemsdyk (16), Tip-In. Assist: Kessel, Bozak
54.0 - Phil Kessel (21), Snap Shot. Assist: van Riemsdyk, Gunnarsson
04:36 - Nicklas Backstrom (11), Wrist Shot, Unassisted.
11:51 - Joel Ward (13), Wrist Shot. Assist: Johansson, Ovechkin
Penalty Summary
10:00Kulemin, 2 min, Holding
13:40Volpatti, 2 min, Cross Check
04:01Phaneuf, 2 min, Roughing
04:01Erskine, 2 min, Roughing
04:01Erskine, 2 min, Roughing
07:20Grabovski, 2 min, Tripping
10:03Gunnarsson, 2 min, Interference
14:53Ashton, 5 min, Fighting
14:53Wilson, 5 min, Fighting
14:58Orr, 5 min, Fighting
14:58Erskine, 5 min, Fighting
17:17Kulemin, 2 min, Tripping
09:44Clarkson, 2 min, Tripping
Shots On Goal
Jonathan Bernier58:46323
Michal Neuvirth59:58322
Game Information
Attendance - 18506
Referees - Gord Dwyer, Tom Kowal
Linesmen - Mark Shewchyk, John Grandt
Other Games
Dal 2 Final
Car 0 Final
Colu 3
NYI 2 Final
Colo 1
Pitt 3 Final
Edm 4
StL 1 Final
Van 2