|The Captain with your game winner. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)|
THE RESULT: For 59 minutes and 52 seconds, the Washington Capitals looked like they would eke out a hard-fought victory over their division opponent Carolina Hurricanes. Then, potential disaster struck, as a combination of Caps weaknesses allowed a game-tying goal with just 2.2 seconds remaining on the clock, forcing overtime.
There was nail-biting aplenty after Eric Staal outmuscled Tom Poti to flick a bouncing puck past Varlamov to knot the game with under three seconds in regulation.
In the overtime, the biggest play was a left leg pad/catcher combo save by Semyon Varlamov on Sergei Samsonov to preserve the tie.
On to the shootout then. Alex Ovechkin tallied on the Caps first shot, Varlamov made that lone goal stand, and the capacity crowd was finally able to exhale with a 3-2 win and a full two points.
Easy as that. Yeah, right.
The Capitals third win in a row gives them 36 points and a 17-6-2 record, tops in the NHL.
Any other result would have been devestating, considering the way the Capitals dominated the first period of this game, racing out to a 2-0 lead after one frame that could have been much bigger were it not for the media's No. 1 star of the game, Carolina goalie Cam Ward.
"The second period they took over a little bit. It's tough; they're a great team," center Nicklas Backstrom acknowledged afterward. "But I think we should have won this game in regulation anyway. I think we're the better team."
Ward was clearly the best player in this game, as he made 15 saves in the first period (en route to a 38 save game), keeping his team in the game. The Hurricanes simply had no energy whatsoever in that beginning frame, and were lucky to get out trailing by just two.
“He played well," Coach Bruce Boudreau begrudgingly said after the game. "I didn’t think he had to make as many great saves as I have seen him make in the past, but Cam Ward always plays well.”
The coach was somewhat prickly in his post-game comments, perhaps still stewing about how Carolina tied things up rather than the final outcome.
Ovechkin was a bit more effusive in praise of the opposing netminder. “I think [Ward] played tremendous game today. I think we dominated them almost all game, but he played unbelievable."
The Caps first goal, by rookie Marcus Johansson, was an example of Carolina's lackluster performance in the first. Eric Fehr outworked Joni Pitkanen in the corner and fed a streaking Johansson in the slot, and the Swede had time to deke Ward and slide the puck five-hole on him. Ian White, the other Carolina D-man, was late in helping after misplaying the puck behind the goal to begin with.
“It’s always good to get a good start, but it doesn’t matter if it is the first or last goal," Johansson said. "It is always good to get us going and it turned out to be a pretty important goal, since there only were two.”
The second goal was a thing of beauty, as Ovechkin made a perfect pass to Alexander Semin on a two-on-one with less than two minutes remaining in the frame. The play started with Nicklas Backstrom, backchecking on the play, making a blind outlet pass to spring Ovechkin and Semin on the breakaway.
The assist ties Ovechkin with Sidney Crosby (of course) for second in the league in assists. Asked if he found that surprising, Boudreau said, "He’s always been a great passer – he’s just never been noted for being a great passer.”
Boudreau does not seemed concerned that his sniper is collecting assists at a much faster clip than goals this season. "He’s struggling scoring goals, and you can see he’s pressing a little bit, but the good news is he’s getting chances. He’s not losing the puck off his stick like he was a week ago, and he’s driving. You just know once it breaks, it’s gonna break."
Late in the game, defenseman Mike Green blocked a shot off his right knee, and left the ice on one leg and was assisted down the tunnel back to the Caps locker room. He returned to the bench for the shootout. Boudreau wouldn't let the question get finished before he cut off: “You ever block a shot? They freakin hurt! He’s gonna be fine, but they hurt!”
THE GOOD: The Caps
first second goal was a masterpiece. First, Backstrom's backcheck and blind pass to Ovechkin on the left wing was something only players extremely comfortable with one another could pull off. Then, Ovi made a great drag move around the defender and hit Semin perfectly for the shot.
"You have to work on defense to score goals, I think," Backstrom said from the comfort of the home locker room after the game. No truer words have been spoken.
THE BAD: David Steckel had a great night in the dot (8 of 11), but on the crucial final draw with less than eight seconds, Eric Staal got a completely clean draw off him to the point, where Pitkanen had a good look at the goal unemcumbered. Varlamov lost the shot from the point, then Olli Jokinen got the puck bouncing back toward Staal. For the rest of the story, keep reading.
THE UGLY: For the "Caps need a physical defenseman" crowd, Exhibit A was the game-tying goal. Tom Poti had position on Eric Staal, but could not tie up the forward in any way, leading to the goal. Poti tried to lift Staal's stick, but Staal (6'4", 205) just outmuscled Poti.
THE STATS: Johansson (3) from Fehr (5) at 7:00 of 1st. Semin (18) from Ovechkin (22) and Backstrom (18) at 18:49 of 1st. Ovechkin in SO.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 8:00 pm at St. Louis Blues
CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS
3. Semyon Varlamov. 26 saves, including the game-saver in overtime.
2. Marcus Johansson. Another strong game from the rook. Went hard to the net for his goal.
1. Alex Ovechkin. Perfect pass on the assist to Semin. Seven shots on goal. Noticeable effort on backchecking all night. Was on the bottom of the scrum at the end of the third period. Earned the hard hat. A very captain-like evening.
CAPS NOTES: The Capitals improved their NHL-best home record to 12-1-1 after recording their second shootout victory of the season.
The Capitals have scored first in seven of their last nine games after tallying the first goal only four times in their first 16 games of the season.
The Capitals, who won 33 of 59 faceoffs (56%) tonight vs. Carolina, have been over the 50% mark in the face-off circle for 12 straight games. David Steckel led the team winning 8 of 11 faceoffs (73%) despite losing the critical draw leading to the game-tying goal.
Building off a 5-for-5 performance on Friday vs. Tampa Bay, the penalty killing unit went 3-for-3 tonight. Washington’s penalty kill has killed off 20 of the last 23 shorthanded situations (87%) and is currently ranked eighth in the league at 84.3%.
|Scrum at the end of the third period before the game-tying goal. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)|
|Marcus Johansson during pre-game skate. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)|
|Varlamov making a save in the shootout. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)|