Until last night, Mike Knuble had never scored a shootout goal. But coach Bruce Boudreau played a hunch, sending the veteran out to take the Capitals fourth shot, after the initial three rounds were tied.
A little head fake got Marc-Andre Fleury on the ice, and Knuble sent a quick snap shot past the splayed goalie, giving the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory over their arch-rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, before another capacity crowd at Verizon Center.
The win is Washington's third consecutive over the Pens this season with one remaining, an Apr. 6 tilt at the Igloo.
This game had everything the fans could have wanted in a hockey game. There were end-to-end rushes, but solid defense as well. There were sniper's shots and fabulous goaltending. There was skilled skating and tremendous checking. It was, simply, as good as regular season hockey gets.
Sure, the officiating left something to be desired. Doesn't it always seem to in these affairs?
But Caps-Pens is must-see hockey. Heck, even the Washington Post sent seven reporters to last night's game. The unofficial attendance in the press box was close to capacity overall, with local media, Pittsburghers, national media and bloggers alike jammed elbow to elbow in the penthouse.
And they, like everyone in paid attendance and watching on TV, got what they came for.
Neither Sid the Kid nor the Great Eight lit the lamp in this one, so they remain tied for the NHL's goal scoring lead. But they both assisted on a teammates' goal, and they were the center of attention for the other squad's top defensive pair all night.
Jose Theodore earned the second star of the night with 39 saves on 42 shots, including several dramatic kick saves, solidifying his hold on the No. 1 goalie position heading into the playoffs.
Knuble started the scoring with a crease-crashing rush, knocking the puck out of the air behind Fleury--but waiting until it was below the crossbar--then stuffed it in from behind the Pittsburgh keeper.
And Eric Fehr scored his 21st goal of the season, redirecting a blistering slap shot from the point by Mike Green.
But tonight's biggest play came from the enigma, Alexander Semin.
Early in the third period, Pittsburgh was awarded a power play when Jeff Schultz wrapped up and tackled Crosby on his way to the Caps' net.
Semin was part of the second shift of penalty killers, with Boyd Gordon (back) and Brooks Laich (face) scratched. He deftly intercepted a weak saucer pass through the high slot and carried end-to-end along the left wing boards.
As he entered the offensive zone, he realized the Pens' forwards did not bother to backcheck, so he drifted through the high slot and--justlikethat--whipped a wicked wrist shot past an unsuspecting Fleury to knot the game at two.
As TV analyst Craig Laughlin said, no one else in the game possesses that shot.
So a close game that could have broken open with an enemy power play goal turned back into a new game, due to a superb effort by a ridiculously talented player that sometimes seems to lack motivation or concentration.
Just another chapter in a fabulous saga of good hockey, and good hockey hatred.