By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 30, 2006
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Dec. 29 -- Already missing four players because of injury, the Washington Capitals received more bad news Friday morning.
Eight more players had come down with a stomach virus overnight, and three of them weren't going to be able to play. The patchwork lineup didn't seem to stand a chance against the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils.
But that's not exactly how things unfolded. The Capitals put forth a gutsy effort and fell just short, 4-3, at Continental Airlines Arena for their third consecutive defeat.
"We certainly had a depleted lineup," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "We had some young kids playing. We're certainly not happy with losing, but you certainly can't fault anybody."
New Jersey center Scott Gomez scored twice and set up another while goaltender Martin Brodeur made 31 stops, including 13 in the frantic final frame to clinch a victory that was anything but certain.
Devils captain Patrik Elias stretched the Devils' lead to 4-2 at 6 minutes 43 seconds of the third period, snapping a shot past Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig (30 saves) from an almost impossibly tight angle.
Washington wouldn't surrender. Alexander Semin scored as the Capitals skated with six attackers with 46 seconds remaining, pulling them within 4-3. But Brodeur snuffed out one final chance in the last seconds, turning away a shot by Lawrence Nycholat.
"We played hard," said Nycholat, one of the recent minor league callups, who got his first NHL goal in the first period at age 27. "They just took advantage of our mistakes."
The fact that the Capitals, who were forced to call up three players from Hershey of the American Hockey League to fill the roster, managed to keep it so close for so long was shocking.
Out were forwards Matt Pettinger and Brian Sutherby and defenseman Steve Eminger.
Three others -- right wing Chris Clark and defensemen Mike Green and Brian Pothier -- showed symptoms of the virus before the opening faceoff but skated anyway.
It's unclear, Hanlon said afterward, what the team will do for Saturday night's game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. But he did not rule out the possibilities of more call-ups.
"We can't hang our heads, but at the same time it's a loss," Kolzig said. "With the way the standings are, all bunched up, it's not a good time for this. If we can just stay around .500 while we're waiting to get guys back, that would be an accomplishment."
It was yet another blow for Washington, which was playing for the third time in four nights and already reeling from a variety of health issues.
Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn returned after missing four game with mononucleosis. Four others -- Richard Zednik (abdominal surgery), Matt Bradley (hand surgery) and defensemen Bryan Muir and John Eskine, each out with a broken bone in his foot -- are on injured reserve.
"I've never seen anything like this," Hanlon said. "I'm not a doctor, but the guys are so close, so enclosed for such long stretches of time, I don't know how you avoid getting it."
As a result defensemen Timo Helbling and Jamie Hunt and center Dave Steckel were summoned from Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League and played against the Devils.
"I thought they adapted quickly and did a good job for us," Hanlon said.
Nycholat, recalled from the minors last week, gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 5:25 into the game. Alex Ovechkin set up the goal with a nifty cross ice pass.
Gomez eventually squeezed one past Kolzig with 1:07 remaining, tying the score at 1. Gomez made a drop pass to Patrik Elias, who quickly returned the puck to Gomez, who rifled it over Kolzig's blocker.
The Devils, however, outplayed the Capitals for most of the opening 20 minutes, outshooting the visitors 16-5.
At 6:22 of the second period, Sergei Brylin backhanded a rebound past Kolzig on the power play to restore New Jersey's edge, 2-1, and swing the momentum in the Devils' favor.
Gomez was credited with New Jersey's third goal at 13:31. He was tied up with Nycholat when a rebound deflected off a skate in front and eluded Kolzig to make it 3-1.
Normally a two-goal lead means the defensively inclined Devils would just sit back and hang on. They tried.
But Brooks Laich redirected Nycholat's slap shot from the point past Brodeur at 16:50, sending the Capitals into the third period behind 3-2.
Capitals Notes: Devils defenseman Colin White missed his second consecutive game with a groin muscle injury.