Capitals Fall in Fight for First

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Washington Capitals' stay in first place didn't last long.

Two days to be exact.

Faced with a chance to extend their lead over Carolina in the Southeast Division last night at Verizon Center, the Capitals fell behind early, came up empty on seven power-play opportunities and lost, 2-1, in the biggest game of their season to this point.

"When you're 0 for 7, that defines where the game ended," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You have to make teams pay if they're going to take that many penalties. And we didn't. It's been a recurring problem."

The Hurricanes came to Washington with the worst penalty-kill unit in the league, but they left with a one-point edge in the tightly bunched division standings.

"I don't think it had much to do with them. It had to do with us," defenseman Mike Green said of the power play, which is 1 for 24 in the past eight games. "Basically we were just passing it around the perimeter."

Although the postseason doesn't begin for another two months, Green and several other young Capitals said they felt as if they got a taste of playoff-like intensity.

In addition to a half-dozen board-rattling body checks in the opening moments, there were two fights before the game was six minutes old. The Capitals, however, failed to match the Hurricanes' early push, and as a result the visitors had a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes on goals by Erik Cole and Andrew Ladd. The goals came on the first four shots Brent Johnson (21 saves) faced.

"It was just like a playoff game," said defenseman Jeff Schultz, who turns 22 this month. "There was a lot at stake. They came out firing, and we didn't match their intensity."

Alex Ovechkin (four shots) and the Capitals got their chances against Cam Ward, but the Carolina goalie turned aside 33 shots, including 13 in the second period.

In the end, though, it was an out-of-sync power play that undid Washington, which came up empty on a two-man advantage for 1 minute 10 seconds in the second period. The Capitals mustered only eight shots in 11:10 of power-play time.

"If you look at the power plays that work, it's meat and potatoes, getting the puck to the net, crashing the net and getting ugly goals," Boudreau said. "It's something we have to either learn or change up the guys who are on there."

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