The Washington Capitals center appeared to score with 43 seconds left to tie Saturday afternoon’s game against the Dallas Stars, but the goal still had to be confirmed. The whistle was blown before the puck crossed the goal line; the referee lost sight of the puck beneath Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger as Strome poked it home. After the officials huddled, they ruled Strome had scored but kicked the play to the NHL’s situation room in Toronto for verification.
Under the league’s continuous-play rule, video review can confirm goals that are unaffected by the whistle — for example, if the puck is moving toward the goal line when the whistle blows and nothing happens afterward that causes the puck to cross the line — so Strome’s goal was allowed.
Strome celebrated his team-leading 19th goal so enthusiastically on the bench that, by the time he met with reporters after the game, his voice was a weak rasp that emphasized just how important it had been. Washington went on to lose, 5-4, in overtime on Stars defenseman Thomas Harley’s goal, but Strome’s tally salvaged a point from an ugly four-game road trip that featured three regulation losses by a combined score of 14-5 heading into Saturday’s matchup at American Airlines Arena.
“When it’s a goal on the ice, I think usually it stands,” Strome said. “Obviously, I’m a bit biased, but I feel like it’s the right call. … That’s hockey sometimes. The hockey gods got us one [point] tonight.”
After falling into at least a three-goal hole in their previous three games, the Capitals took a rare lead when Anthony Mantha scored at 9:40 of the first period. But it took just 64 seconds for the Stars to tie it on a goal by Wyatt Johnston, and it took just 23 more seconds for Dallas to pull ahead when Harley scored at 11:07.
At 6:24 of the second period, defenseman Rasmus Sandin notched his first goal in 39 games this season to tie the score at 2. His emphatic fist pump told the story of just how long his drought had been. He had come close in Washington’s previous two games — a point-blank opportunity that was denied at Colorado and a shot that got past the goaltender but trickled wide at Minnesota — but his shot from the blue line Saturday found the back of the net. Winger Beck Malenstyn provided the screen in front of Oettinger (24 saves), helping Sandin’s long-range wrister get through.
The Stars retook the lead on a power-play goal by Mason Marchment at 11:00. And when Matt Duchene scored to put Dallas up 4-2 early in the third, Washington appeared headed toward ending this road trip before the all-star break — one the Capitals (22-18-7) knew could make or break their season — without a single point.
“We knew it was going to be a big, tough game right before break here,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said of the Stars (30-13-6). “We knew how tough it was.”
Still trailing by two, Washington went on the power play with 3:36 left. The Capitals came up empty on a first-period power play and hadn’t produced much in the final minutes. But after Washington pulled goalie Charlie Lindgren (30 saves) for a six-on-four advantage, captain Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal since Jan. 2 (his ninth of the season and the 831st of his career) to bring the Capitals within one with two minutes left.
Washington pulled Lindgren again with just over a minute to play, and Strome sneaked the puck through Oettinger despite the early whistle. Harley scored his second of the game — and his second overtime winner in as many games — to lift the Stars to victory at 3:27 of overtime, but the comeback was nonetheless an important sign for Capitals Coach Spencer Carbery.
“Huge finish. We didn’t lay down in a really difficult game,” he said. “That’s a really good hockey team. … Credit our guys for not laying down and finding a way. … Would’ve liked to have found a way to get that second point, but like I told them, that point could be very, very important down the road.”
Washington, which is idle until a Feb. 6 matchup with Montreal, isn’t blind to the realities of what’s ahead. Forty-seven games into the season, the team is battling for a playoff spot. The gap between the Capitals and the teams leading the Eastern Conference wild-card race widened during their one-point road trip, and they have one of the most difficult schedules in the league down the stretch.
Taking one point from this trip is marginally better than taking none, but Washington knows a lot needs to improve if its hopes of playing beyond the regular season are to become reality this year.
“We’ve put ourselves in a spot where we need to get some points back. We understand that,” Carbery said. “It’s going to take a bunch of work. We’re going to have to get tighter in a lot of different areas. We’re going to have to get better offensively. We’re going to have to get some guys rolling and get their seasons kick-started. We’re going to work, fight, and when we get back from the break, we’ll have 2½ months to the finish line that we are going to put everything we absolutely have into.”
Note: Winger Max Pacioretty exited in the third period with a lower-body injury. He made his Capitals debut Jan. 3 after returning from a second Achilles’ tendon tear in the span of five months. After announcing that Pacioretty wouldn’t return to the game, the Capitals clarified that his injury is not an Achilles’ tendon issue.