After a Strange Trip, Caps Don't Stumble

Alex Ovechkin, left, celebrates the Capitals' game-winner with Tom Poti.
Alex Ovechkin, left, celebrates the Capitals' game-winner with Tom Poti. (By Paul Vernon -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 5 -- Hockey players are often quick to complain about the officiating, right or wrong.

Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena, the Washington Capitals had every reason to be furious with Bill McCreary after the veteran referee tripped up a defenseman in the third period, leading directly to the Columbus Blue Jackets' go-ahead goal.

But fortunately for the Capitals -- and McCreary -- Rick Nash's second strike of the game wound up being little more than a side note to another come-from-behind triumph for Washington.

Tom Poti's took McCreary off the hook with 6 minutes 53 seconds remaining in regulation, then Alex Ovechkin finished off the Capitals' comeback with his second goal of the game at 2:28 of overtime, clinching a bizarre 4-3 decision before 14,450.

"Crazy game, that was sick," said Ovechkin, who extended his league-leading goal and point total to 45 and 72, respectively. "We play terrible first period. But we dominate them second and third period."

The win moved the Capitals within one point of Carolina and Atlanta for the Southeast Division lead. Washington can move into first place with a win in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

"This win just shows heart," said goaltender Brent Johnson, who made 28 saves to earn his fourth win in five starts. "It was unbelievable."

That the Capitals were even in position to gain two points after their horrendous start was nothing short of remarkable.

The night began with Nash scoring a short-handed goal -- while the Blue Jackets were down two players. Nash picked off Nicklas Backstrom's pass to Ovechkin before racing the length of the ice to tally Columbus's first goal in that situation, over a span of 547 games.

Then, 41 seconds after Nash's goal, Jason Chimera put Columbus ahead by two goals.

But, as the Capitals have done 10 times under Coach Bruce Boudreau, they regrouped, then rallied. Ovechkin and Alexander Semin scored in the second period to send the game into the third tied at 2.

That's when things got crazy.

Nash got his second goal of the night at 4:02 of the third period, after defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was accidentally taken down by McCreary as the two collided between the blueline and the circle, opening up the middle of the ice for Nash, who beat Johnson with a shot past the blocker pad to put the Blue Jackets ahead 3-2.

"What are you going to do?" Boudreau said. "I'm sure there's nobody in the arena who didn't want to be where he was at that time than Bill McCreary. I'm just glad it wasn't the deciding factor in the outcome. Because he would have felt like crap."

Poti tied the score at 3 with his first goal of the season, beating replacement goaltender Fredrik Norrena over the shoulder. The puck exited the net so quickly, play wasn't immediately stopped. But after a brief review, it was ruled a goal.

Ovechkin clinched it with a wrist shot through Semin's screen in overtime. Norrena didn't appear to get a good look at the puck until it was too late.

"His shot is just so deadly, that wrist shot of his," Boudreau said. "I've been here 32 games and it amazes me every day."

Despite being down 2-0, the Capitals were the better team after the first intermission.

Ovechkin blasted through the neutral zone, overpowered Columbus defenseman Adam Foote and fired the puck between Pascal Leclaire's pads to trim the Capitals' deficit to 2-1 at 13:34.

The game's momentum changed about two minutes later when Capitals grinder Quintin Laing crashed into Leclaire, one of the top goaltenders this season with a league-leading eight shutouts and 2.11 goals against average.

Leclaire suffered a sprained neck and was replaced by Norrena. Laing was assessed a minor penalty for goaltender interference. The Capitals killed off the penalty to Laing, then tied the game at 18:13 on Semin's 13th goal of the season.

"This was a huge two points for us," Poti said. "This was definitely a bizarre game. But we showed our character and said, 'We'll go out and get one' And we did."

Capitals Notes: Eric Fehr, in his return from a nearly year-long absence with a back injury, recorded two shots in 16:46 of ice time. . . . Donald Brashear played his 900th NHL game. . . . Right wing Chris Clark (groin tendon) and defenseman Brian Pothier (concussion) remained out. Left wing Matt Pettinger and defenseman Steve Eminger were the healthy scratches. . . . The Capitals are 6-1-1 all time against the Blue Jackets.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company