Brooks Orpik's goal lifts surging Washington Capitals past New Jersey Devils

By Harvey Valentine, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 21, 2016 at 4:04 AM
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WASHINGTON -- Veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik only recently returned to the Washington Capitals lineup.

It did not take long for him to take a turn playing hero for the best team in the NHL.

Orpik scored with 3:58 left as the Capitals tallied twice in the final 6:05 to rally past the New Jersey Devils 4-3 on Saturday night for their third straight win.

The 35-year-old defenseman took a pass from center Evgeny Kuznetsov and fired high past screened goaltender Cory Schneider from the left circle for his second goal of the season.

"There was so much traffic in front I was just trying to put in on net. I knew Schneider probably couldn't see it because I couldn't see much of the net," said Orpik, who didn't initially react to the goal. "I think it was either Oshie or Ovi (Alex Ovechkin) who started celebrating, so I knew it was in.

Orpik returned Tuesday after missing 40 games with a lower body injury. He added an assist against the Devils and has three points since his return.

"Obviously the team's been going pretty well all year," he said. "I've been watching a lot of it, so it's a lot more fun being a contributor here the last three games."

Orpik's goal set off a raucous celebration on the Washington bench.

"If we could have gone out to the blue line to hug Brooks we all would have because I think they all respect how hard he works," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "He's one of the glue guys in our whole room."

Left winger Reid Boucher gave New Jersey a 3-2 lead with 8:56 left in the game, but Washington right winger T.J. Oshie tied it from his knees in the slot with 6:05 left when he backhanded the puck off a pair of Devils' skates and into the net.

Left winger Alex Ovechkin scored his 38th of the season and added an assist, and Kuznetsov notched his 17th goal.

Braden Holtby stopped 21 shots for the NHL-leading Capitals (43-10-4) who have won eight of nine overall, and are 16-1-1 in their last 18 home games.

Boucher also had two assists for New Jersey, while right winger Kyle Palmieri and center Travis Zajac each had a goal and an assist.

"After we took the lead they had a big response and we had to keep pace with them and we just failed to do that," Boucher said. "It's very disappointing. We definitely felt we should have gotten points out of that game. It's a big letdown."

Schneider made 28 saves for New Jersey (29-24-7), which has lost three straight as it fights for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"I thought it was a pretty competitive game either way," Devils coach John Hynes said. "I thought that we had a couple situations in the (defensive) zone that weren't as sharp as they needed to be and (the puck) ended up in the back of the net,"

Both teams had plenty of scoring chances during an entertaining first period that saw the Devils match their even strength production from their previous five games combined.

Palmieri set up the first goal when he skated behind Holtby and passed in front. Zajac banged the puck home for his ninth goal with 4:32 left in the period.

Ovechkin tied it less than two minutes later when defenseman Dmitri Orlov gloved a New Jersey clearing attempt and then passed to him at the bottom of the left circle. Ovechkin, all alone, took his time and fired between Schneider's legs.

New Jersey went ahead with 23 seconds left. Palmieri skated through the right circle and fired on net from a tough angle, but the puck deflected off Holtby's back and into the net.

"Holtz (Holtby) made a couple of real big saves or it could have been 4-1 in the first period very easily," Trotz said.

Washington outshot New Jersey 12-4 in the second period and pulled even when Schneider blocked center Michael Latta's wraparound attempt, but Kuznetsov fired the rebound over the goalie's shoulder.

NOTES: The Devils are 4-2-2 this season in the second of back-to-backs. ... Washington C Jay Beagle practiced with the team for the first time since injuring his hand on Dec. 30th. ... New Jersey scratched RW Bobby Farnham, D Damon Severson and D Eric Gelinas. ... Capitals' RW T.J. Oshie played his 500th NHL game. ... Washington scratched D Taylor Chorney and RW Stanislav Galiev. ... With the NHL trade deadline approaching on Feb. 29, scouts from Montreal, Nashville, and Winnipeg were listed on the Verizon Center press box seating list. ... The teams conclude the season series March 25th at New Jersey.

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