WASHINGTON – Not long after assisting on the go-ahead goal with 122 seconds remaining in a victory over his former team, Washington Capitals forward Justin Williams stood in a hallway not far from the visitor's locker room and caught up with a couple of members of the Los Angeles Kings.
The reason the Capitals signed Williams as a free agent last offseason was to provide a late-game push in the sort of playoff-type atmosphere felt by both sides in NHL-leading Washington's 3-1 comeback victory over Los Angeles on Tuesday night. He used to do that sort of thing for the Kings.
"If you listen to Justin on the bench ... he finds a way to pull people into the fight. And he does it by example," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "He finds a way to get things done — and that's his talent."
Williams gathered the puck behind the net and slid it to Evgeny Kuznetsov for a goal that withstood a coach's challenge for goalie interference and broke a 1-all tie.
"Some guys have a knack for that, and he does. Probably had a little extra in him tonight, playing against his former team," said Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik, who earned an assist in his return after missing 40 games with a lower-body injury. "He's a competitive guy, and a guy you want on the ice at the end of the game."
Kuznetsov's 16th goal, but first in a month, gave him 20 points in his past 14 games. Andre Burakovsky got a secondary assist on that score, after tying the game with 48.1 seconds left in the second period. Jason Chimera added an empty-netter with 8.6 seconds left.
Washington goalie Philipp Grubauer, getting a rare start in place of Braden Holtby, made 39 saves.
Grubauer gave up four goals in a loss to Florida in his prior start, two weeks ago, and said: "For sure, I wanted to bounce back from that game."
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, back after missing three games with a lower-body injury, finished with 29 stops.
This one was tight and physical throughout, the kind that often is played in May, not February.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who set up Anze Kopitar's short-handed goal in the first period, said his club approached this matchup as if it were in the postseason.
"We know how good that team is. We know what their record is, how good they're doing in the standings," Doughty said. "And we know that if everything works out the way we want, and we make the Stanley Cup final, there's a good chance they'll be there, too."
Washington won despite a quiet night for Alex Ovechkin, whose four-game goal streak ended, and the team's league-best power play, which went 0 for 5, managed a total of only five shots in those 10 minutes with the man-advantage and was the unit responsible for allowing the Kings' goal.
That's because Kopitar scored his 17th goal while Los Angeles was killing a penalty with a little under 3 1/2 minutes left in the first period.
Trotz described Washington's play in that opening period as "real easy and light," but by the third, he said, "We were playing the way we're supposed to play."
Some of the credit for that goes to Williams, who nearly scored in the second period, but his power-play shot went off the outside of the left post.
"We got better — because we had to," said Williams, who won the Stanley Cup twice with the Kings and is 7-0 in Game 7s. "They were outshooting us, outplaying us, out-battling us. Slowly, in the third period, we started to take things over, and things started to move a bit in our direction. You know, we said it on the bench: We were getting stronger and they were fading a bit."
NOTES: Like Williams, Capitals C Mike Richards was with the Kings last season and helped Los Angeles win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. "It's weird playing against them," Doughty said. "We understand they're not a part of our team anymore. We'll always have those memories with them and we'll never forget. Now they're on the opposite side. Next time we play them, we've got to beat them." That game's at Los Angeles on March 9. ... Washington has won 15 of its past 17 home games. ... Burakovsky has 16 points in his past 14 games — eight goals, eight assists.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich