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Will a Non-Challenge Be the Turning Point in the Capitals’ Season?

The Caps current 13-3-1 run started with an overtime win that featured a tying goal that might have been subjected to a challenge, but was not.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, turning points in a team’s season are obvious. And sometimes, they are not. If the Washington Capitals have a strong second half to the regular season, reach the postseason, and make a deep playoff run, you might look back to a November game that was the turning point, although it might not have looked like it at the time.

Let’s set the table, so to speak. The Caps entered Thanksgiving week in a bad spot. They lost four straight games, three of them by three or more goals, to fall to 7-10-3 for the season. They were sitting in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division and 13th place in the Eastern Conference, five points out of a wild-card spot, when the Philadelphia Flyers came to town on the night before Thanksgiving.

The game started poorly for the Caps, the Flyers drawing first blood 5:27 into the first period when Morgan Frost scored the sort of goal a struggling team gives up. Coming down the left side alone, with Nick Jensen and Anthony Mantha back for the Caps, Frost shot between the two defenders, hitting goaltender Darcy Kuemper in the right shoulder. The puck popped up into the air, Kuemper unable to locate it as it dropped behind him and trickled over the goal line just inside the far post to make it a 1-0 game and cause Caps fans to think this might be five losses in a row, which would make it the longest losing streak for the Caps since a seven-game winless streak in January 2019.

Marcus Johansson tied things up later in the first period on a Caps power play, nudging a loose puck the last few inches into the goal at 11:05 of the period after Alex Ovechkin sent a rebound under the pad of goalie Felix Sandstrom.

Philadelphia regained the lead late in the second period on a Patrick Brown goal at the 14:33 mark. It was another shot Kuemper had trouble locating, a shot from Ivan Provorov at a severe angle ticking off Brown’s stick in front of Kuemper at the near post and inching over the goal line as Kuemper was trying to find it in his pads.

The Flyers took the 2-1 lead into the third period, and when the clock approached three minutes remaining in regulation, another loss in the chain seemed to be at hand. And then, Sonny Milano, signed as a free agent in mid-October, getting into the lineup for the first time on November 5th, and playing in just his ninth game for the Caps, scored what might end up being one of, if not the most important goals of the season.

Evgeny Kuznetsov started the play by skating the puck out of his own end and to the Flyers’ blue line, where he dished it off to T.J. Oshie on his right. Oshie skated into the offensive zone and fed the puck back to Kuznetsov heading down the middle. Kuznetsov pulled the goalie in his direction as he showed backhand, then fed the puck to Milano angling to the net from the left side. Kuznetsov laid the puck on Milano’s stick, and Milano wasted no time burying it behind Sandstom to tie the game at the 17:02 mark.

But…was the play offside?

When Kuznetsov was approaching the Flyers’ blue line with the puck, Oshie was parked along the right wing boards. But as Kuznetsov slid the puck over, the question became a simple one, was Oshie’s left skate completely across the blue line before the puck crossed. If so, the play would have been offside, thus nullifying the goal.

It looks, at least from this view, that the puck did cross the blue line before Oshie’s skate was completely across, validating the goal. The Flyers did not challenge this play or the goal.

The teams skated to a tie in regulation, and 64 seconds into the extra frame, Alex Ovechkin ended the Caps’ losing streak.

Starting with that come-from-behind overtime win, the Caps are 13-3-1, the second-best record in the league since November 23rd, and they sit in third-place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the New Jersey Devils for second-place as of Wednesday morning.

If, come April, the Caps find themselves in the position in which they currently find themselves and in the postseason, it might be this game, the one in which the challenge was not made, the one where the tying goal stood up, that changed their season.