By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 28, 2007
PITTSBURGH, Dec. 27 -- It was, in the words of Coach Bruce Boudreau, a game the Washington Capitals "had to win." And for a while Thursday night, it appeared they might be headed for an uplifting triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins as they clung to a late lead.
But it all crumbled.
Darryl Sydor scored with 2 minutes 16 seconds remaining in regulation, then Sergei Gonchar beat Olie Kolzig with a slap shot from the middle of the circle in overtime to send the Capitals to a 4-3 loss in which Alex Ovechkin and goaltender Brent Johnson suffered injuries.
The defeat was Washington's fourth in five games (1-1-3) and was their sixth straight loss to Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
Ovechkin left the game early in the third period after being cut on the leg by a skate. The Capitals' leading scorer (he tallied his 26th goal in the second period) required "a few" stitches to close the cut, but he will play on Saturday in Ottawa, General Manager George McPhee said. Ovechkin declined to talk to reporters as he limped to the team bus, saying only that he was "okay."
The prognosis was not so good for Johnson, who will miss the next two to four weeks with a sprained left knee. Johnson went down awkwardly while attempting to prevent Pittsburgh's second goal late in the first period and was relieved by Kolzig.
Gonchar netted the winner after taking a pass from Crosby in the high slot and blasting the puck past Kolzig, who stopped 16 shots in 37:44 of ice time.
Gonchar's goal secured the win, but things already had taken a turn for the worse for the Capitals when defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was whistled for roughing at 15:48 of the third period. With four seconds left in the penalty, Sydor fired a slap shot from the point off of Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina and over Kolzig. Sydor's strike tied the game at 3 with 2:16 to play.
"We play well for 58 minutes, then we take a penalty," forward Brooks Laich said. "I don't know what to say about tonight."
Things were looking good for Washington late in the second period after Ovechkin put the Capitals ahead 3-2. For a time, in fact, it appeared as though it might be enough.
But then Ovechkin left the game, and his team lost its focus.
"I thought we had total control over the last half of the game until we took that penalty," Boudreau said. "It's a game we had to win. Brooks Laich has to get at a 50 percent draw and we have to block that shot."
Johnson left the game with 2:07 remaining in the first. He had just stopped Crosby on back-to-back shots from point-blank range, but then Pittsburgh's Colby Armstrong backhanded the puck in front. It deflected off of Jurcina's stick and between Johnson's pads to put the Penguins ahead 2-1.
Johnson remained on the ice for about two minutes before skating gingerly to the locker room with the assistance of head athletic trainer Greg Smith. McPhee said between the second and third periods that Johnson had indeed suffered a sprained ligament and will be sidelined.
Earlier in the period, Jeff Taffe's first goal as a Penguin staked the home team to a 1-0 lead in front of a sell-out crowd. Donald Brashear rallied the Capitals back 2:33 later when he beat Conklin from the slot after taking a nifty tap-pass from center Boyd Gordon.
Pothier, who is playing with a broken thumb, scored for the second straight night at 5:23 of the second to tie the game at 2. The play began with Ovechkin tapping a pass to Kozlov, who flipped it to Backstrom, who spun and passed back to Pothier at the point.
But the Capitals couldn't hold it together, despite Kolzig's best efforts. The veteran goaltender stopped Crosby on a semi-breakaway late. But he couldn't stop Sydor's fluky goal.
"We get ahead and it's like hanging on and protecting a lead rather than trying to get more," Boudreau said. "We have chances to put the game away and we have to have the killer instinct. I don't know how you get it. I don't know if you're born with it, but somehow we have to find it."
Capitals Notes: Right wing Chris Clark missed his 13th game with a strained groin muscle. The Penguins were without defenseman Mark Eaton (knee), goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (ankle) and forwards Ryan Malone (leg infection) and Maxime Talbot (ankle).