By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008
ATLANTA, Feb. 13 -- Alex Ovechkin wasn't afforded much room to operate Wednesday night at Philips Arena. But when the Washington Capitals' all-star discovered a sliver of open ice in the final moments of regulation, he made the most of it.
Ovechkin extended his league lead in goals in dramatic fashion, forcing overtime with his 48th goal of the season at 18 minutes 39 seconds of the third period. Kari Lehtonen, however, made sure the Capitals didn't secure the other point, making six saves in overtime and another in the shootout to lift the Atlanta Thrashers to a 3-2 victory.
Eric Perrin and Slava Kozlov each beat Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig on penalty shots, while Alexander Semin missed the net and Lehtonen turned away Boyd Gordon's attempt for Washington, which played with five defensemen after Tom Poti was lost to an apparent leg injury late in the first period.
Wednesday's result -- it was the Capitals' first defeat in their past seven trips to extra time -- created a three-way tie in the decidedly mediocre Southeast Division between Washington, Carolina and Atlanta. The Capitals, however, have played one fewer game than the other leaders.
"Anytime you have to come back and have to score in the final two minutes, it's a positive thing," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Obviously we would like the two points. And quite frankly, I think we deserved the two points."
Considering they launched 41 shots on Lehtonen, the Capitals might consider themselves fortunate to have earned a point. In fact, until Ovechkin's tally, Washington appeared headed for a confidence-crushing defeat. Lehtonen had put a pad, stick or glove in the way of virtually everything flung in his direction, and had also set up the Thrashers' second goal with a 110-foot pass to right wing Marian Hossa.
Hossa's strike in the final minute of the second period staked the Thrashers to a 2-1 lead, then Lehtonen made sure the Thrashers took that lead into the final minutes.
Which is when Ovechkin found some space. The Russian left wing slipped loose of the Thrashers' tight-checking defense in the neutral zone, took a deft feed from Nicklas Backstrom near the blueline, then beat Lehtonen under the glove to force extra time.
While Boudreau was thrilled to see Ovechkin's shot go in, he was also disturbed that Ovechkin continues to be asked to carry the offensive burden most nights. Ovechkin received the primary assist on Washington's other goal, scored by Viktor Kozlov.
"We're not doing something, whether it's going to net harder, getting a little grittier or shooting the puck more," Boudreau said.
It might not have mattered on this night. Lehtonen, who had earned a shutout in the teams' previous meeting, a 2-0 Thrashers' victory, stopped all 18 of the Capitals' first-period shots.
"That wasn't the way we wanted to start," Lehtonen said.
About his assist, Lehtonen said, "I still believe I'm a better goaltender than a passer."
The play still had Capitals shaking their heads in the locker room afterward.
It began with Lehtonen gloving down Milan Jurcina's shot from the slot. He quickly dropped the puck and fired it down the rink to Hossa, who had sneaked behind the Capitals' defense and was cherry-picking at the Washington blueline. Hossa snagged the goalie's heads-up pass, broke into the zone and slipped the puck underneath Kolzig (26 saves) with 57 seconds left in the second period to send Atlanta into the third with a 2-1 lead.
Which is how the game remained until Ovechkin's goal.
"It was an important point for us, especially on the road," said Ovechkin, who took six shots in 25:25 of ice time. "Me, Kozlie and Backie don't have more space to score goals."
Poti, meantime, is listed as day-to-day.
Capitals Notes: Tomas Fleischmann signed a two-year contract extension on Wednesday. The 23-year-old will earn $725,000 in each of those seasons. With six goals and 15 assists in 53 games in his first full NHL season, Fleischmann's offensive production is subpar for a top-six forward, but the organization -- Boudreau in particular -- believes the skilled left wing is on the verge of a breakthrough. . . .
Right wing Chris Clark (groin tendon) and defenseman Brian Pothier (concussion) remained sidelined, though Clark is traveling with the team to participate in the father-son road trip. Left wing Quintin Laing and defenseman Steve Eminger were healthy scratches.