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Washington, D.C. — During what’s been a struggle of a regular season, the Red Wings showed some character Sunday against the Capitals.

Watching Washington score three goals in the third period and force overtime — similar to Friday’s disaster against the New York Islanders — the Red Wings salvaged a 5-4 victory Sunday when Tomas Tatar scored in overtime.

It was the last signal of a team that showed it left Friday’s debacle largely in the past, and was going to do anything possible to leave with two points for the standings.

“We showed unreal work ethic and fight,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “There’s pushes back and forth. They’re a good hockey team. From the middle of the first period to the end of the second, we were excellent. They pushed hard in the third but we even had moments of good push back.

“You don’t want to give up the lead, obviously, but it’s something we’ll keep working on. You want to learn those lessons when you win.”

Blashill has stressed about the need for his team to embrace being a hard-working, grinding team and they largely were in these two strange road games.

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“We have to be a work ethic team and we did a good job of that throughout the game,” said Blashill, who also liked the “character” and “mental toughness” the team showed. “We have to keep working here and getting better in areas and make sure we have to same work ethic every night.”

While the way they lost Friday was astounding, allowing four goals on a five-minute Islanders’ power play, then rallying to tie the game to force overtime before losing, Sunday’s game was different.

Washington is one of the true contenders in the Eastern Conference, and they methodically clawed back, capitalizing on their chances.

What the Red Wings took out of the weekend was the knowledge they stood tall against two quality opponents and return to Detroit with three of a possible four points.

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Red Wings captain on team's 5-4 overtime victory against the Capitals on Sunday. Ted Kulfan

“It was nice to get the two points, it’s important for us,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We get three of four points and that’s the only thing we can focus on, getting as many points as we can here.

“When we play well we’re playing good hockey, rolling four lines. A lot of guys are contributing offensively. We just have to stick with it.”

Overtime elation

Sunday’s overtime victory was rare indeed.

The win improved the Red Wings’ record to 6-9 in overtime — but only 2-8 in the 3-on-3 overtime (they’re 4-1 in the shootout).

Had the Red Wings been able to just win a few more of those overtime sessions, they would be looking at a more realistic playoff possibility.

Still, they’ll take this particular victory.

“It hasn’t been good enough (the Red Wings’ overtime record),” Blashill said. “I don’t know if it was our best overtime but it’s kind of the way overtime goes, you give up a chance and you’re going to get one.

“It was a real good play by Larks (Dylan Larkin) and great finish by Tats (Tomas Tatar).”

Moving his feet

Anthony Mantha’s goal Sunday gave him 19 for the season and three in the last two games.

Mantha was a noticeable force during the weekend, using his big body and showing speed.

“What I’m seeing now is work ethic,” Blashill said. “He’s been excellent. His second effort has been good. He’s skating. He’s been real good.”

With Mantha, Blashill is consistent in his belief that as long as Mantha skates hard, he’ll be a factor.

“He’s bending his knees,” Blashill said. “When he bends his knees and skates, he’s excellent. That’s the fire-starter for him. The one thing that makes a big difference is when he bends his knees and skates rather than when he’s straight-legged.

“He’s been working on that for a long time and his work ethic has been great the last 10 games.”

Ice chips

Tyler Bertuzzi, who took the unfortunate slashing penalty Friday that resulted in New York’s five-minute power play which led to the four Islanders goals, was a healthy scratch against Washington in favor of David Booth.

… Goaltender Jimmy Howard stopped 23 of 27 shots, but made several quality saves in the third period that could have made Sunday’s game much different, much earlier.

“He also made two big saves in overtime,” Blashill said. “We need to find ways to win and lots of times you need saves for that to happen. He did a good job of making sure we won the game.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

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