WASHINGTON (AP) — T.J. Oshie scored twice to end a lengthy drought, Alex Ovechkin had a late power-play goal and the Washington Capitals came back from down two to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3 on Sunday.
Ovechkin scored with 4:04 left, and that turned out to be a necessary insurance goal when Nikita Gusev beat Craig Anderson with 11.9 seconds left. But it was too late for another comeback, and Washington avoided back-to-back losses.
“The last 10 minutes in the first period, we kind of change the momentum and we start playing the right way,” Ovechkin said. “I think we start putting puck deep, we forecheck, we play physical and the goals come.”
Anderson made 22 saves for his first NHL victory since March 7. Anderson and New Jersey’s Aaron Dell each hadn’t started an NHL game in more than 11 months.
“It’s a mental battle,” Anderson said. “Physically, nothing’s changed from a year ago from the last time I played. It’s just mentally getting in there and getting into a rhythm.”
After the Devils jumped out to a 2-0 lead, Oshie stared the comeback by scoring on a deflection on the power play in the second period. That ended a nine-game goal drought and Dell’s shutout bid on Washington’s 23rd shot of the game.
“It had been a while,” Oshie said. “It felt nice to see one hit the back of the net.”
John Carlson tied it midway through the third period, and Oshie beat Dell again on the power play with 8:07 left to put the Capitals ahead. Ovechkin made Washington 3 of 4 on the power play, just his second goal on the man advantage this season.
“I think Osh was hot, and everybody play around him,” Ovechkin said. “I just find open net and it was an empty-netter.”
Washington started slow allowing the first seven shots and falling behind but won for the first time in six afternoon games this season (1-3-2).
Dell stopped 37 of the 41 shots he faced in his first NHL action since March 2020, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Devils from losing a second game in a row. New Jersey got goals from Andreas Johnsson and 2019 No. 1 pick Jack Hughes before blowing the lead.
Coach Lindy Ruff said the power play is “something that we’ve got to fix. We’ve obviously got some structure issues. We’ve got some confidence issues with it right now. I think some of the players are second-guessing themselves. We’ve just got to free that up as a staff and get everybody back on the same page.”
The original NHL schedule had the Capitals hosting the New York Rangers and the Devils off Feb. 20. New Jersey was swapped in as Washington’s opponent five days ago, and the game was moved up Saturday from prime time to an afternoon start.
That’s because the outdoor game between Boston and Philadelphia needed to be moved back to prevent the same direct sunlight problems that severely delayed Vegas and Colorado on Saturday. The Capitals and Devils each played at home Saturday afternoon, so this adjustment was possible.
“This is a different year,” Ruff said. “I think you’ve got to be ready for anything.”
Anderson and Dell each last started in the NHL on March 11 — the final day of the 2019-20 season before the league suspended play. Anderson actually allowed the final goal before the shutdown, playing for Ottawa at Los Angeles.
“It was kind of crazy,” Dell said of the long layoff. “The first probably five minutes or so, I felt a little jittery, a little nervous, but it came right back like I had never left. It felt like just another regular game for me after that.”
Anderson may have earned another start, as Capitals coach Peter Laviolette continued to stress Ilya Samsonov needs get his conditioning back after recovering from COVID-19. Samsonov got two minor league rehab starts but hasn’t played an NHL game since Jan. 17.
“Our goaltending rotation right now is and has been Vitek and Anderson,” Laviolette said. “After today, I can say both goalies have played well they have given us a chance to win. We are going to continue to work with Samsonov, he is certainly a big part of our team and we want to make sure that when we put him in that he is in the right spot to do it and be successful.”
Devils veteran center Travis Zajac played in his 1,000th regular-season NHL game, all with New Jersey. Teammates had him step on the ice first and take a solo lap at the beginning of warmups, and Zajac was in the starting lineup.
“It wasn’t the result we hoped for,” Zajac said. “Nonetheless, it was a special moment for me and one I’ll never forget.”
Devils: Host Buffalo on Tuesday night in the opener of a home-and-home series.
Capitals: Host Pittsburgh on Tuesday night for the first of two in a row in Washington between the longtime rivals.