By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals had finally found their stride, but they were running out of time.
Still, judging from the way Ovechkin and his teammates were buzzing around the Tampa Bay Lightning's goal in the final minutes last night, something seemed bound to happen.
And with 1 minute 15 seconds left in regulation, it did. Ovechkin took a pass from Jeff Halpern at center ice, muscled his way past a Lightning defender and flipped the puck into the net, tying the game, much to the roaring approval of the fans at MCI Center.
Ovechkin's goal forced overtime and ultimately a shootout, the rambunctious rookie's personal playground.
It was then, in penalty shots, that the 20-year-old left wing scored the deciding goal and backup goalie Brent Johnson turned away all three Lightning shooters to clinch the Capitals' 4-3 victory, their second shootout win over the defending champions.
"I knew what I must do," said Ovechkin, who is 3 for 3 in penalty shots this season. "I just go, shoot it and score. I've scored penalty shot on him before, so he knows what I do. I know when I sit on the bench, I must shoot."
Ovechkin's previous two penalty shot goals began with a stutter-step fake in deep and ended with him backhanding the puck from point-blank range. Lightning goalie Sean Burke saw that move on Oct. 16. So this time, Ovechkin picked a corner and fired a wrist shot over Burke's glove. The veteran was helpless to stop it.
"When I score, I am always lucky," Ovechkin joked.
Although the improbable victory, their first in four games, will be remembered for Ovechkin's timely performance, the game might not have gotten to a shootout -- or ended triumphantly -- if not for the play of Johnson. He made 32 saves, earned his first victory in four starts, and made a huge play of his own in penalty shots, when he poke-checked the puck off Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina's stick to seal the win.
"I'm happy for all of them, but particularly for Brent Johnson," Coach Glen Hanlon said. "Being in that position before, I know what a great feeling that is, and it's a weight off his shoulders to win [his first] hockey game."
After Tampa Bay's Fredrik Modin scored his second goal of the game to put the Lightning ahead 3-1 at 6 minutes 29 seconds of the third period, Ovechkin and the Capitals turned up the pressure on Burke. The effort paid off when defenseman Bryan Muir's power play slap shot found the net, trimming the deficit to one goal near the midway point of the period.
Then Ovechkin took things into his hands. He was consistently the best player on the ice, but had little to show for it until his powerful charge down the left wing, a play that ended with him lifting the puck, backhanded, over Burke (37 saves). After the puck went in, Ovechkin skated to the end boards and leapt, bumping the glass enthusiastically while pumping his fists.
"I don't think we played Ovechkin that bad on that goal," Lightning Coach John Tortorella said. "I think we need a save there."
The Capitals' win came without goalie Olie Kolzig, who missed his third consecutive game with a strained leg muscle, and center Dainius Zubrus, who aggravated a groin injury and was not in uniform. He was replaced in the lineup by Andrew Cassels, a healthy scratch the previous five games. Cassels had two assists, including on Ovechkin's game-tying goal.
Washington's odds didn't look good without Kolzig and Zubrus. But, as Ovechkin has repeatedly proven, as long as he's in the lineup, the Capitals are almost never out of it.
"It's nice to know he's almost good for a goal a game," Halpern said. "So if he hasn't scored yet, you always know there's that chance."
The scoreless first period began inauspiciously for the Capitals, who mustered a meager four shots on goal. Including the season-low two shots they recorded in the third period of Saturday's 3-2 loss in New Jersey, that gave the Capitals a grand total of six shots in 40 minutes of play. Tampa Bay logged 11 shots in the period.
Ovechkin and his teammates did a better job of getting shots on net in the second period, but so did the Lightning, which struck twice in a span of 1:36 to take a 2-0 lead.
Tampa Bay's Modin redirected a point shot by Kubina around Johnson, who didn't see it coming, for a 1-0 lead. Then, moments later, Ruslan Fedotenko backhanded the puck over a sprawled Johnson. The Capitals' goalie had been knocked off balance by a charging Vaclav Prospal, but there was no penalty called, despite Johnson's protest.
The Capitals continued to ramp up the pressure on Burke, and it eventually paid off with 1:51 remaining in the middle frame, which ended with the Lightning leading 2-1 and the shots on goal tied at 18. Ben Clymer scored his second goal of the season and first against his former club, with whom he shared the championship in 2003-04. Clymer muscled his way to the net, swiped at a rebound and it found its way past Burke.
But the Lightning turned a defensive lapse into a goal early in the third period, when Modin again was rewarded for skating to the net. He knocked in a rebound to stretch the Lightning's lead to 3-1.
Muir's goal gave the Capitals a chance, and Ovechkin's goal and penalty shot clinched it.
Capitals Note: Left wing Jeff Friesen missed his fourth game in a row because of a groin muscle strain.