By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The game was not yet a minute old, and Washington Capitals goaltender Brent Johnson already was facedown on the ice after getting run over by rugged Ottawa Senators winger Chris Neil.
Johnson didn't know what hit him -- literally -- and his head was pounding. But after a few moments, he picked himself up and made the decision to stay in the game.
The Capitals were sure glad he did.
Johnson made 26 saves against the Eastern Conference's best team and Alexander Semin notched his first two-goal performance of the season as the Capitals completed a rare season sweep of the Senators with a 4-2 victory at Verizon Center.
"I've still got a bit of a headache after it," Johnson joked. "Maybe that's what I need every game."
The victory was Johnson's first since Dec. 15 and improved his record 4-5-1. But more importantly, his steady play helped the Capitals rebound from Sunday's deflating 6-4 loss to Philadelphia and moved them to within five points of Southeast Division leaders Carolina and Atlanta.
"We're fighting here," Johnson said. "We have to catch up here and it's not going to get any easier. We understand that, especially at home, you can't lose two in a row."
The Capitals struck first, but after a second-period lull that saw the Senators score 82 seconds apart and take a 2-1 lead, they were in need of a big play. Semin came through for them.
The Russian winger, who struggled with turnovers against Flyers, scored a beautiful goal to pull the Capitals even. Semin picked off Senators defenseman Joseph Corvo's pass deep in the Ottawa zone, then turned Wade Redden inside out before sending goaltender Ray Emery to the ice with two stick-fakes. Semin capped the highlight-reel play by flipping the puck underneath the crossbar.
"It was sick move," Alex Ovechkin said of Semin's goal. "It was a very important goal."
Ovechkin scored one of his own in the third period. He fired a long rebound past Emery, who got a piece of the puck but not enough of it at 9 minutes 11 seconds to put the Capitals ahead 3-2.
The victory came on a difficult day for Washington, which learned yesterday morning that veteran center Michael Nylander will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery today in Cleveland. Nylander, the team's biggest free agent acquisition this summer, is the team's second-line center and second-leading scorer (37 points) behind Ovechkin.
The win also gave Washington its first season sweep over the Senators since 1995-96, Ottawa's fourth season in the league.
Both teams were without key personnel last night. The Senators didn't have all-star Dany Heatley, who is sidelined for six weeks with a separated shoulder. The Capitals were in worse shape. In addition to not having Nylander, they also were without right wing Chris Clark (groin muscle) and defenseman Brian Pothier (concussion).
Because of the injuries, Coach Bruce Boudreau was forced to get creative with his lineup. He kept the first line -- Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov -- intact. Boyd Gordon, meantime, replaced Nylander on the second line and skated between Tomas Fleischmann (two assists) and Semin.
"That Semin line -- mostly Semin -- win game tonight," Ovechkin said.
The first period ended scoreless, with the Capitals holding an 11-5 edge in shots. The teams made up for it in the second.
Only 47 seconds in, defenseman Mike Green pinched in deep on the power play and snapped a spot-on crossing pass from Kozlov over Emery's glove to put Washington ahead 1-0. It was Green's 13th goal, the most among NHL defensemen.
The Capitals continued to pressure Emery, but the Senators got even thanks to a fortunate bounce. Andrej Meszaros's shot was blocked in front and sent up the slot, where Dean McAmmond fired it past Johnson, who wasn't expecting the shot, to tie the score at 1 at 13:41.
Less than two minutes later, Redden jammed a loose puck behind Johnson during a scramble in front to put the visitors ahead 2-1.
Johnson kept Ottawa from extending its lead, while Semin and Ovechkin restored Washington's. Semin knocked in a loose puck at 11:56 of the third to clinch the win.
"He was more determined tonight," Boudreau said of Semin. "Sometimes when you don't have a great game and you lose, it's not the coaches but your teammates you're embarrassed about. So you play hard the next game. That's what he did."
Capitals Notes: Backstrom was named to the NHL's YoungStars event, which will be held on Jan. 26 during all-star weekend in Atlanta. The game will feature a new three-on-three format.