By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 17, 2008
PITTSBURGH, Oct. 16 -- When the Pittsburgh Penguins jumped out to a three-goal lead early in the second period Thursday night, all appeared to be lost for the Washington Capitals. They lacked discipline, the penalty kill struggled, and the goaltending, well, it hadn't been so great, either.
But as the Capitals have done so often this season, they roared back thanks to the one thing that hasn't let them down: their explosive offense.
In a span of about 12 minutes in the third period, Alexander Semin cut the deficit to one, Michael Nylander tied it, and Boyd Gordon scored a disputed go-ahead goal to lift the Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the Penguins, a team they hope to challenge for Eastern Conference supremacy.
"I don't know if it's a statement game, per se, but I think it's the identity of our team -- no matter what happens, we don't quit," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "In four games we have been down early and we have to find a way to get out of that habit. But it's awful nice to believe you can come back."
In the Capitals' three wins, all in a row, they've scored four consecutive goals in each of them. Thursday night, they did it without a single point from Alex Ovechkin, who took only one shot through 40 minutes but finished with five as Washington peppered Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-André Fleury with 21 of their 30 shots in the third period.
"We push and push and win the game," Ovechkin said. "We didn't shoot the first two periods. Maybe we were afraid, maybe we were sleeping, but we don't play our hockey. We just change our minds."
The win was the Capitals' second in three games against the Penguins, but just their third since 2005 against a team that has tormented them for years.
But for the second straight game, the Capitals celebrated a win while fretting about the status of a key player. Defenseman Tom Poti left the game in the second period with a strained groin muscle, but General Manager George McPee said it's too early to know how much, if any, time the veteran will miss. The Capitals were already without wingers Viktor Kozlov (left knee) and Donald Brashear (hand).
Injuries aside, there were plenty of smiles in the visitors' locker room here. Gordon was particularly happy with the timing of his first goal of the season, even if he was the only person in sold-out Mellon Arena who thought it had gone in.
His winning goal came with 4 minutes 17 seconds remaining, but it was only awarded after a video review. The shot had sneaked under the crossbar, exiting the goal with such velocity that the referee didn't see the puck enter the net. So play continued for more than a minute before the play was reviewed and the goal awarded.
"As soon as I shot, I knew it went in," said Gordon, who had an open Ovechkin on Fleury's doorstep when he shot. "It was a huge goal. This is a tough place to get a win."
Nylander had tied the game at 3 when he finished a display of passing that began with Semin's cross-ice pass to Tomas Fleischmann, who tapped the puck back across to Nylander. Fleischmann finished with a goal, two assists and the red hardhat, given to the player who worked the hardest.
After two periods, it would have been tough to imagine such a comeback. Sidney Crosby (two assists, minus-3 rating) and Evgeni Malkin (goal, two assists) had helped the Penguins out-shoot the Capitals 20-9.
Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead at 12:58 when Alex Goligoski whipped a wrist shot off of José Theodore's skates and into the net. The shot was not particularly dangerous and Theodore appeared slow to get into position.
Later in the period, defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was sent to the penalty box for the second time. And the Penguins made the Capitals pay again.
Crosby sent a centering pass from behind the net to Malkin, who fired a slap shot from the top of the slot that deflected off defenseman Milan Jurcina and slipped past Theodore.
The Penguins extended their lead to 3-0 with yet another power play goal, this one coming five-on-three. That's when Miroslav Satan poked a loose puck over the goal line to help Pittsburgh's power play go 3 for 6.
But about four minutes later, Fleischmann cut into the Penguins' lead to 3-1 with his first goal of the season, backhanding the puck over Fleury after a deft touch pass by Brooks Laich.
Then came what Ovechkin said was the game's turning point. After the faceoff, Matt Bradley and Paul Bissonnette dropped their gloves and squared off near center ice.
Bissonnette landed a couple of punches, then badly bloodied Bradley's face with a straight right-handed jab to his nose. The devastating blow dropped Bradley, who after sitting in the penalty box briefly was told to go to the locker room for stitches. Bradley returned in the third period.
"Matt Bradley did a great job," Ovechkin said. "Our team wake up after that fight."
Added Penguins Coach Michel Therrien: "We lost the game because we stopped working in the third period. We played on our heels. We were losing battles. Power play was good. Five-on-five was horrible."