By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2008
Matt Bradley turned to Bruce Boudreau twice on the Washington Capitals' bench last night and implored the coach to put him on the ice for an attempt in the shootout. Two times Boudreau resisted, choosing more skilled players instead.
But in the 12th round, with his options dwindling, Boudreau finally relented. Bradley skated to center ice, then with the calm of a first-line forward scored the decisive goal, flipping a backhander past Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson and lifting the Capitals to a wild 5-4 victory at Verizon Center.
"I told him, 'I'll score, I'll score' ", said Bradley, whose goal was the only tally in the shootout. "Finally he let me go and I got lucky and scored. I just blacked out for a second."
The Capitals scored their fourth win in five games, their first triumph in a shootout since last February, a span of eight games. It was also their eighth come-from-behind win since Boudreau took over behind the bench and moved them within four points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Bradley, a winger with two goals this season and the locker room jokester, told his teammates as they came off the ice that he plans to hold a shootout clinic today at practice.
"We're never going to hear the end of it," defenseman Mike Green said.
Washington rallied from an early 2-0 deficit on goals by Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Green and Alexander Semin and took a 4-3 lead into third period. But Edmonton's Shawn Horcoff tied things at 4 at 7 minutes 40 seconds, and Roloson and his counterpart in the Washington net, Olie Kolzig, made sure it went to extra time and eventually 12 rounds deep into penalty shots.
Which is when Bradley delivered.
"Brads wanted the puck," Boudreau said. "It was fabulous."
So was the Capitals' rally.
It began at 1:01 of the second period when Nicklas Backstrom beat Roloson, whipping a rebound over the Oilers' goalie to pull the Capitals to 2-1. Then, 38 seconds later, Ovechkin's 35 goal of the season evened the score at 2.
Backstrom, however, was assessed hooking penalty just as Washington had stolen the game's momentum, and Dustin Penner flicked the puck past Kolzig (29 saves) after consecutive crossing passes by Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky to restore the visitors' lead, 3-2, at 6:49.
Once again, though, the Capitals came back.
Green notched his 14th goal of the season with a power play goal at 11:58, snapping a pass from Ovechkin over Roloson (28 saves). Then, with 52 seconds left to play in the second session, Semin stole the puck from Denis Grebeshkov behind the Edmonton net and fired the puck off of an unsuspecting Roloson to give Washington its first lead of the night, 4-3.
It was the third time the Capitals scored four goals in a period this season. (The previous two times were also against Canadian teams -- a 7-1 win in Toronto on Oct. 29 and 8-6 triumph in Ottawa on Dec. 29.) Although they weren't able to hang on for a regulation win, they earned the two points they sought.
Washington improved to 3-1-0 on the critical five-game homestand. They hope to close it out with a victory on Saturday against Florida.
"I would say we're in playoff mode, but we've been there for a long time now," Boudreau said before the game. But the Capitals sure didn't play like they were in playoff mode early.
Quintin Laing hit a post and Tomas Fleischmann rang a puck off the crossbar in the opening minutes, and then the Oilers made their move.
Horcoff fired a rebound past Kolzig at 8:33 to put Edmonton ahead 1-0. Sheldon Souray took the initial shot, which was stopped by Kolzig. But Kolzig was unable to clear the puck after getting tangled in traffic at the top of the crease.
Then Green was sent to the penalty box for interference at 13:35, and Robert Nilsson capitalized on a defensive miscue moments later and extended Edmonton's lead to 2-0. Washington defenseman Jeff Schultz attempted to clear the puck through the slot. But the puck landed on Nilsson stick and the Oilers center drilled it past Kolzig's glove 17 seconds into the power play.
Bradley helped them forget about those early transgressions. "He's a deceptive player," Kolzig said of Bradley. "He doesn't have the hardest shot on the team, but in the shootout he can find the back of the net."
Capitals Notes: Right wing Chris Clark missed his second straight, and 19th overall, with a groin muscle strain. Defenseman Brian Pothier (concussion) was sidelined for a fifth straight game. . . . Oilers defenseman Joni Pitkanen left the game with a groin injury in the first period and did not return.