During their now-concluded three-game losing streak, Caps players, media, fans and Coach Bruce Boudreau all spoke often about the need for the club to play a full 60-minute game, something they all freely admitted they were not doing.
Thursday night, against a scrappy Atlanta
team trying to earn the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals
got that 60-minute effort, defeating the Thrashers 2-1 before a frenzied capacity crowd at Verizon Center.
Defenseman Mike Green, who assisted on the Caps' first goal of the night, spoke after the game about the effort level and getting the job done.
"It's been a while since we played a 60-minute game. We've struggled in the first period the last few games, but tonight we came out strong. It was important we got our first goal and usually when you do it lets everyone relax a little, you know, play the game properly."
"It was a complete 60 tonight. It was something we needed to prove to ourselves that we can do going into the playoffs."
On playing—and beating—a team they could very well face in the first round, Green said, "It was important we got this win so they don't believe that [Atlanta] could ever beat us."
Coach Bruce Boudreau spoke about the compete effort in his post-game press conference.
"I thought it was like a playoff game. It was tense and there weren't a lot of shots. Those are the hardest games to play, because, I think there were 44 whistles after two periods. You gotta stay focused cause some guys might not get on the ice for eight, ten minutes."
"I thought we beared down and proved we can play defensive when we have to. And tonight was one of those nights."
The game winning goal was scored by the checking line of Matt Bradley, Jason Chimera and David Steckel.
Steckel and Chimera both made good plays along the boards to keep the offensive zone, then the combative Bradley wrestled the puck from 48-year old Chris Chelios in the corner and went to the net, stuffing a backhander short-side against goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
It was a good reward for a line that worked hard all night, and for Bradley in particular. He's been scuffling a bit of late, but with the tally he tied his career season-high of nine goals, set his rookie year with the San Jose Sharks
"We talked about the last couple of games, if we had played [wide-open hockey] in the playoffs, it wasn't going to work," Bradley said. "We knew it was going to be a playoff-style game tonight because they're fighting for their lives. The first two periods were kind of boring with not much happening, but you've just got to wait it out and not make any stupid moves and you know your breaks will come."
Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov turned away 19 shots in the victory. Though he wasn't tested very often, he made several nice saves early in the third period, before the Caps pressure just became oppressive for Atlanta.
The Caps completely dominated a three minute stretch late in the third, keeping the puck deep in Atlanta's end, effectively running just two lines: the fourth and first. The Thrashers would empty their net with just over a minute to play, but even then they did not manage a quality chance on net.
There was a bit of a scare in the second period. Atlanta forward Colby Armstrong delivered a fairly obvious flagrant elbow to the head of Caps' center Mathieu Perrault, knocking the diminutive player to the ice. Perrault made his way to the bench under his own power, and would return only to take a high stick later and open a nice gash on his lip.
"I was trying to make a play and I saw him at the last second," Perrault said. "He got his elbow up pretty high, I think. I kinda turned and he got me in the head."
There was no call on the elbow, as Armstrong only received a roughing when Shaone Morrisonn stood up for his fallen teammate.
"I guess [the referees] didn't really see it there. On the replay you can see it was an elbow. It should have been a penalty, I think."
So the Caps made a statement; to the Thrashers, to their coach, to themselves. With five regular season games remaining, it was time for the team to pull it together and give a complete effort--a 60-minute game.
NOTES: Nicklas Backstrom scored his 30th goal of the season, redirecting a Mike Green wrist shot from the point. The assist gives Green 73 points, matching his career high.
Alex Ovechkin's assist on the play gives him 103 points on the season.
The win marks No. 50 for the Caps this season.