Hockey

Caps’ Anderson replaces injured Vanecek in win

It was Craig Anderson to the rescue in the Washington Capitals‘ Game 1 overtime victory against the Boston Bruins.

Anderson, who turns 40 on Friday, stopped 21 of 22 shots after replacing injured starter Vitek Vanecek in the first period, leading the Capitals to a 3-2 overtime win at home on Saturday night in the postseason opener in the NHL. It was Anderson’s first playoff appearance in nearly four years, and just his fifth appearance in goal this season for the Capitals, having spent most of it as the third-stringer on the taxi squad.

“Well, you could say I’m well-rested,” said Anderson, who is in his 18th NHL season. “When opportunity knocks, you make the most of your opportunity. I’ve been here before. It’s a great feeling to be involved and be a part of it.”

Anderson made nine saves in the third period and one in overtime. Nic Dowd tipped home a T.J. Oshie shot at 4:41 of overtime to give the Capitals the Game 1 win.

Vanecek, a rookie making his first postseason start, was replaced by Anderson with 6:50 remaining in the first period, suffering what the team called a lower-body injury while trying to make a save on Jake DeBrusk‘s score-tying goal. Anderson’s last playoff appearance was on May 25, 2017, as the goaltender for the Ottawa Senators. He lost in double-overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.

“It’s a tough spot to put somebody in, but Andy’s answered the bell for his whole career, and he’s answered it when we’ve needed him. It truly epitomizes the concept of working hard every day so when you get your opportunity, you’re ready. And that’s exactly what he did,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said.

Anderson’s road to the Capitals was an unlikely one. Washington signed him to a one-year, free-agent contract after Henrik Lundqvist, who they previously signed, was unable to play after undergoing successful open-heart surgery.

Anderson was the backup in Game 1 because goalie Ilya Samsonov had just come off the NHL’s COVID-related absences list on Saturday. Laviolette said there was no update on Vanecek’s injury after the game, and that Samsonov’s status would be discussed on Sunday.

“There’s a lot of confidence in all of our goalies. You’d like to be healthy. You’d like to have everybody available. But this is what we’ve been dealt. I can tell you that there’s a lot of confidence in Anderson,” Laviolette said. “It was great to see him come off the bench and play like he did in a big game like this. I don’t think anybody expected anything different. Everybody was pretty confident based on his career and the amount of starts he’s had in his career. His numbers have been good his entire life in the National Hockey League. He came off the bench and he did what he always does.”

Tom Wilson and Brendon Dillon also scored for the Capitals. Jake DeBrusk and Nick Ritchie scored for Boston, and Tuukka Rask made 29 saves in the loss.

Game 2 is in Washington on Monday night.

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