It took overtime, but the Sharks were able to spoil Antti Niemi’s homecoming, as they beat the Stars 4-3.
Only one goal was scored in the first period, and it belonged to the road team. Mattias Janmark and Antoine Roussel both notched their eighth assists of the season as they helped Ales Hemsky to a backhander at the 11:15 mark.
The second period was all San Jose, as they not only leveled the game, but took the lead going into the second intermission. Their first goal came only 3:54 after resuming play, scored by Second Star of the Game Marc-Edouard Vlasic after assists from Joe Thonton (his 25th helper of the season) and First Star Tomas Hertl. Only 7:13 later, Chris Tierney fired a slapshot past Niemi on the power play after assists from Tommy Wingels (his ninth helper of the season) and Matt Nieto, setting the score at 2-1.
The Stars leveled the score only 33 seconds after resuming play in the final frame with a snap shot from Tyler Seguin (his 25th tally of the season) after an assist from Jamie Benn. San Jose took the lead again only 7:18 later with Vlasic’s second goal of the night after assists from Dylan DeMelo and Joonas Donskoi (his 10th helper of the season). The flurry of goals ended only 12 seconds later when Third Star Jason Spezza leveled the score again after assists from Benn (his 30th helper of the season) and Seguin. The three-all tie held to the final horn, forcing some three-on-three play.
The overtime period lasted only 1:12 before Hertl scored the game-winner, assisted by Vlasic (his 16th helper of the season) and Logan Couture.
Martin Jones’ record improves to 20-13-2 after saving 32 of 35 (91.4%), while Niemi’s falls to 16-8-5 after saving 35 of 39 (89.7%).
The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 41-19-9, favoring the home squad by 29 points over the roadies.
Fourteen points are on the table in today’s Sunday schedule. The action gets started at 3 p.m. eastern when Carolina visits Pittsburgh, followed an hour later by Vancouver at the New York Islanders. The final two matinees start at 5 p.m. eastern when Florida visits Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers visit Washington (NHLN/TVAS). Montréal at Chicago (SN/RDS) gets started at the usual starting time of 7 p.m. eastern, followed half an hour later by Philadelphia at Detroit (NBCSN). Finally, this evening’s nightcap, Los Angeles at Anaheim, gets started at 9 p.m. eastern.
A majority of today’s games are divisional matchups (Carolina at Pittsburgh, Florida at Tampa Bay, New York at Washington and Los Angeles at Anaheim), and three are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Florida at Tampa Bay, New York at Washington and Montréal at Chicago). In addition to qualifying for the other two groups, the New York–Washington game is also a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Those who have followed along all season know that I like to give preference to those games that are rematches of last year’s playoffs or a return of a player to an arena he used to call home, and today is no exception.
Today’s appearance in the Game of the Day series for New York will tie them with Chicago for most games featured in the series at 13. The Rangers own a 7-3-2 record in such games, and their most recent showing in the series was a 2-1 victory over the Bruins on Monday. Washington has been featured eight times before this afternoon’s competition, and own a 5-3-0 record in such games. Their most recent showing in the series was a 4-3 overtime victory in Madison Square Garden on January 9.
The 24-15-5 New York Rangers are currently second in the Metropolitan Division and third in the Eastern Conference. To get them to that position, the Rangers have employed a top-10 offense backed by an above-average defense, measured by goals for or against.
The Blueshirts‘ most recent showing was a 3-2 shootout victory in Philadelphia yesterday. Should New York win today’s game, they would move at least a point closer to the league-leading Capitals and potentially create a lead more solid than winning a ROW tiebreaker over the Islanders.
The 33-8-3 Washington Capitals currently lead the Metropolitan Division by 16 points over the Rangers, the Eastern Conference by 12 points over the Panthers and the NHL by five points over the Blackhawks. Not only does the best defense in the league call the Verizon Center home, but also the second-best offense, showing why the Caps are the class of the NHL.
Thanks in large part to Karl Alzner and his team-leading 115 blocks, the Caps have allowed only 1229 shots to reach 28-4-2 Braden Holtby and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 93.1% for only 95 goals against, best in the NHL by two goals over Los Angeles. Washington maintains their excellent form on the penalty kill, where they’ve killed 84.92% of opposing power plays for only 19 tallies allowed.
Of course, the story in Washington is usually the offense, and this season has not been short of successes on that end as well. Led by Alex Ovechkin’s 216 attempts, the Caps have fired 1328 shots so far this season, of which a whopping 10.6% have found the back of the net for 144 goals (led by Ovechkin’s 26 goals), second-most in the league (trail Dallas by seven tallies). Just like the penalty kill, special teams have been a big part of that success, as the Capitals have scored on 26.15% of attempts for 34 power play goals, led by Ovechkin’s nine extra-man tallies.
Washington played yesterday, but it was not the result they were looking for as they lost 4-1 in Buffalo.
This is the fourth meeting of five between these two squads so far this season, with Washington leading the series 2-1-0. We’ve been there for all three, so you can read a quick-and-dirty recap of the games that occurred November 3, December 20 and January 9.
Some players to watch in this afternoon’s game include New York‘s Henrik Lundqvist (20 wins [fourth-most in the league]) and Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (28 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league] and +17 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Holtby (28 wins [leads the league], 1.97 GAA [second-best in the league] and .931 save percentage [tied for third-best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+21 [fourth-best in the league]) and Ovechkin (26 goals [tied for second-most in the league] and +19 [fifth-best in the league]).
I’m not even going to lie to you, I have to pick Washington in today’s game. They are the best team in the NHL, and I don’t see New York being anything more than a stepping stone on their way to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.