WASHINGTON — Philipp Grubauer conserved his energy during a lull of a second period and needed every bit of it in the third to keep the Washington Capitals’ streaks alive.
Grubauer made 20 of his 37 saves in the third period to help the Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 on Tuesday night for their fifth consecutive victory and NHL-best 10th in a row at home. Washington’s backup goaltender picked up his third win of the season and had only one regret afterward: not shooting at the empty net to try to score.
“I’m not looking to score a goal, but I had so much time and I should have shot it,” Grubauer said. “I wanted to maybe play it safe, (which) is the right thing to do.”
The Capitals did a lot of things right to hand the Canucks their fifth consecutive loss. John Carlson, Lars Eller and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored against Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom, who stopped 33 of the 36 shots he faced and 17 of 18 in the second to keep his team in the game.
“The game should have been over after the second. We were so bad,” captain Henrik Sedin said. “If he wouldn’t have been there, it wouldn’t have been a game. He gave us a chance to at least play in the third and come back.”
Daniel Sedin scored the Canucks’ only goal on a 5-on-3 power play. Vancouver has gone 2-11-2 in its past 15 games to go from third in the Pacific Division to 14th in the 15-team Western Conference.
Washington is on the opposite track, now leading the Metropolitan Division by four points. Tuesday’s effort wasn’t the sharpest, but the Capitals again found a way to pick up two points.
“Has this game been our best of the year? I don’t know,” Eller said. “Definitely this stretch has been our best of the year.”
The Capitals haven’t lost at home since Nov. 30 and are 18-2-0 in their past 20 games in Washington.
“I don’t if it’s just being comfortable or not, but hopefully it’s something that we can bring on the road with us,” Capitals winger Devante Smith-Pelly said.
Smith-Pelly was responsible for the most tension of the night when he fought Canucks defenceman Ben Hutton after a late hit on Brooks Orpik. Smith-Pelly called it “unnecessary” more than dirty, and Hutton didn’t mind dropping the gloves.
“I knew I had to answer the bell,” Hutton said. “We fought, and he said thanks in the box for stepping up. It’s just another hockey play.”
Grubauer took care of the rest with his glove and blocker, taking care of the few shots the Canucks got from high-quality areas. Despite seeing just four shots on net in the second period, Grubauer was on his game in the third when the momentum easily could have shifted.
“It’s a little bit challenging because you’ve got to stay mentally more into the game,” Grubauer said. “I was saving my energy for the last (period) there, and I think we kept it really simple there and got the win.”
NOTES: Linesman Greg Devorski left with an illness, and the game finished with one linesman and two referees. … Capitals F Chandler Stephenson returned to the lineup, replacing Alex Chiasson. … Canucks D Derrick Pouliot was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Coach Travis Green said Pouliot’s game had slipped recently.
Canucks: Make their fourth stop on a five-game trip before the bye week when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
Capitals: Host the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday to start a back-to-back home-and-home series.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press