They said all the right things in the lead-up to Wednesday, portraying confidence even as their postseason chances continued to shrink.
And when push came to shove, the Golden Knights showed they still have some fight left in them.
Facing a must-win scenario, the Knights refused to fold their tents after a puzzling goaltending change at the start of the second period and beat the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime in front of an announced crowd of 18,240 at T-Mobile Arena.
Defenseman Shea Theodore danced through the Washington defense and flipped a backhand over Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov at 2:09 of the extra session for the winning goal.
“At this point of the season, we need to win out to give ourselves a chance,” Theodore said. “Definitely a sigh of relief scoring that goal. Hopefully, that’s just a momentum boost on how we have to play in that third period going forward to give ourselves the best chance of making the postseason.”
The Knights snapped a two-game losing skid and kept their playoff hopes from circling the drain with four games remaining.
They moved three points behind Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division and are two points back of Dallas for the second wild card. The Knights have played one more game than Dallas and face the Stars on Tuesday.
After a damaging loss Monday to New Jersey, the Knights survived a back-and-forth third period to halt Washington’s two-game winning streak.
Chandler Stephenson, who won the Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018, scored on a power play at 2:54 of the third period to put the Knights ahead 3-2. That goal came less than a minute after Evgenii Dadonov tied the game with a shot from the right wing that slipped through Samsonov.
But Alex Ovechkin knotted the score 3-3 with his 50th goal and second of the game when he overpowered goalie Logan Thompson on a drive from the right wing with 6:24 left in regulation.
“Really proud of the way the guys handled everything,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “Obviously, we had some adversity throughout the game. It was a little bit back and forth. It obviously feels good, but the job isn’t done yet.”
Here’s what stood out from the game:
1. Switch it up
Robin Lehner was given another chance to carry the Knights in the final weeks of the season despite being criticized by coach Pete DeBoer after Monday’s loss.
“We pay him to start games like this,” DeBoer said. “It’s the most important time of the year.”
But Lehner lasted 20 minutes, stopping 12 of 13 shots in the first period before he was replaced by Thompson. Washington also had a goal overturned by video replay.
Thompson had no chance against Ovechkin on the second shot he faced but finished with 13 saves on 15 shots. In the third period, Thompson stayed with Ovechkin on a breakaway and prevented him from getting off a clean shot.
“As a goalie partner, you don’t like to be in that situation,” Thompson said. “Robin’s a massive part of our team. He loves everyone, so you never want to see that. Just happy we got two points tonight.”
2. Staying perfect
Slow starts have plagued the Knights recently, and they allowed the first goal for the fifth straight game. Ovechkin’s drive from the top of the left circle trickled past Lehner, and Evgeny Kuznetsov was there to tap in the loose puck at 6:18 of the first period.
After the initial shock wore off, the Knights found a response with Martinez’s tying goal and a successful offside challenge at 4:35 of the first.
Defenseman John Carlson finished off an odd-man rush for the Capitals, but Washington winger Tom Wilson was ahead of the play as Ovechkin carried the puck into the zone and officials overturned the goal.
The Knights are 5-for-5 on coach’s challenges with video coach Dave Rogowski leading the effort. They also were on the right side of a review initiated by NHL hockey operations in Toronto.
“He’s been bang on for us, and that was a huge one,” DeBoer said of Rogowski. “If we go down there, it’s a big, big hole to get out of early in the game against a real good team like that. So a big, important call by him.”
3. Special teams delivers
The power play has failed the Knights numerous times at key points in the season. It came through at a key time against the Capitals.
Stephenson was stationed in the slot and deflected the shot by Max Pacioretty from the right wing.
The Knights finished 1-for-2 with the man advantage after being 1-for-26 since March 26, which ranked second-to-last in the league.
“Our season’s on the line. So we shuffled the lines, and I thought we got some spark from Dadonov’s goal and the PP goal really just lit the building up,” DeBoer said. “That was a huge momentum swing for us.”
Contact David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.