Capitals Absorb Crushing Defeat

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 25, 2008

The Washington Capitals fired shots at him from all angles. From point blank range, through traffic, 38 of them in all.

But, as it turned out, Martin Brodeur's best save wasn't a save at all. The New Jersey veteran surprised Mike Green with a poke check less than a minute into overtime to keep the Devils alive -- and set up a dramatic finish.

John Madden scored with 50 seconds remaining in the extra session, firing a rebound off the post past Brent Johnson to hand the Capitals a deflating 2-1 defeat, their fifth in six games (1-2-3).

"I wasn't ready for that," Green said of Brodeur's timely poke check. "We threw a lot at him, but he played awesome."

Johnson made 29 saves for the Capitals, including 17 in the pivotal third period. But he wasn't able to locate a rebound off the iron until it was too late. Johnson challenged Madden, but the Devils center backhanded the puck underneath his pad to secure the Devils' fifth straight win and lift them into sole possession of the top spot in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2001.

"I thought my pad was down," Johnson said, "but the puck slid right under my pad."

Alexander Semin scored for the fifth consecutive game as the Capitals extended their streak of avoiding back-to-back regulation losses to 42 games. But, as several players conceded afterward, they needed both points, not one.

"We came back from down 1-0," defenseman Tom Poti said, "so I guess you could say we gained a point. But at the same time, we need two points at this stage in the game. And from here on out, that's what we're going to have to get."

Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, who praised his team's effort, added: "I believe their goalie was as good as he's been all year. He made some amazing saves. The play he made on Mike Green on the poke check to me was an amazing poke check."

With the overtime period less than a minute old, Green had the game on his stick -- but only momentarily. Alex Ovechkin, who helped set up Semin's goal but finished without a goal for a season-high fifth straight game, threaded a pass through a pair of Devils and right to Green. But before Green could make a move, Brodeur lunged and knocked the puck away.

It was hardly Brodeur's only highlight in front of a sellout crowd.

Two times in the final minutes of regulation, Brodeur, who earned his league-leading 35th victory in his 22nd consecutive start, bailed out his teammates. With about two minutes remaining, Ovechkin circled the net and then centered a pass to Nicklas Backstrom. But Brodeur got just enough of it to steer it wide.

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