ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — T.J. Oshie found a moment of tranquility as he stared through the darkness and into the crowd at fans holding their cellphones up to light up the stadium.
With music playing and an opportunity to reflect, he contemplated the spectacle of playing an outdoor game at the U.S. Naval Academy that will go down in the standings as an important 5-2 victory by Oshie and the Washington Capitals over the Toronto Maple Leafs. For Oshie, first star John Carlson and especially the American players on the winning side of the first NHL outdoor game at a service academy, the two points are great but the meaning was more significant.
“I really made a point to soak it all in tonight, to really enjoy it as much as I could,” Oshie said after the Capitals’ second consecutive victory following a run of four losses in six games. “Tonight was a lot of fun. It was pretty special for me, pretty special for the team here.”
The Capitals put on a special performance at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium under the lights that went out because of a power surge with 10 minutes left. A 15-minute delay did nothing to stem the tide of Washington’s win that included Alex Ovechkin’s 40 goal of the season and 598th of his career.
Ovechkin became the sixth player in NHL history with nine-plus 40-goal seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky (12), Marcel Dionne (10), Mario Lemieux (10), Mike Gartner (nine) and Mike Bossy (nine).
“Forty is good, but 50’s better,” Ovechkin said. “I still have time to do that.”
The offensive fireworks of the first two periods — including three goals in the first 6:19 — matched the pomp and circumstance of the NHL’s first game at a U.S. service academy. Navy midshipmen and Canadian servicemen and women took part in a patriotic pregame ceremony capped off by a memorable flyover with only the afterburners visible against the night sky.
In one of the best-themed outdoor games to date, the game was played on a rink on top of a facsimile of an aircraft carrier with a replica jet stationed in one corner. Capitals coach Barry Trotz wore a dark Navy cap with a gold “N” on the front as he stood in front of the lit up names of several battles, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Amid some recent struggles that shrunk their lead atop the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals put together a game that matched the stage.
“It seemed like we were on the right side of the puck all night,” said Carlson, who had a goal and two assists and honored former Navy quarterback Roger Staubach with a blue and gold suit featuring his No. 74 on the shoulders. “We weren’t really ever getting beat for breakaways and odd-man rushes. We were in good position and the work ethic was there to get back.”
Playing in windy conditions that kept teams from practicing on this rink before the game, the Capitals didn’t appear at all bothered by the significant change from indoor hockey. The wind blew about 16-20 mph throughout the night, but the difference in play was more significant than the weather with the Capitals beating the Maple Leafs in a rematch of their first-round playoff series.
“They look at us and they still think we’re kids,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “And it looked like we were kids here tonight. I thought they smacked us around.”
Washington’s power play went 2 for 2 and five goals on 25 shots was enough to chase Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen 11:10 into the second period. It’s the fourth consecutive game and eighth of the past nine in which Andersen allowed three-plus goals and his eighth overall giving up five or more, but this was the first time coach Mike Babcock pulled him for performance reasons this season.
“It was going in,” Babcock said. “And I didn’t want to leave him in there and be a bunch more go in.”
The Capitals certainly had the potential to put the puck in more. Now they just hope they can turn the emotions from this game into a run as they begin a three-game Western Conference road trip.
“You get confidence off this,” Backstrom said. “I feel like the last couple games we’ve been playing a little bit better as a team and we’re talking about it every day. We want to get better and better. We should never be satisfied.”
NOTES: Curtis McIlhenney stopped all nine shots he faced in relief of Andersen. … The gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic men’s curling team delivered the puck for the ceremonial faceoff by curling it to center ice. John Shuster’s rink and the gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s hockey team were honored as part of the festivities. … Maple Leafs center Tomas Plekanec became the first player in NHL history to appear in an outdoor game with two different teams in the same season. Plekanec played for the Montreal Canadiens in the Centennial Classic in December. … Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews missed his fourth consecutive game with an apparent right shoulder injury. … Deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the NHL hopes to stage outdoor games at Army’s West Point and the Air Force Academy.
Maple Leafs: At Buffalo on Monday night.
Capitals: At Anaheim on Tuesday night.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
For more NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey