Johnson, Capitals Beat Rangers to Stay Hot at Home

Brooks Laich throws his arms up after putting the Caps up 1-0. "We wanted to measure ourselves. And we passed the test tonight," he said.
Brooks Laich throws his arms up after putting the Caps up 1-0. "We wanted to measure ourselves. And we passed the test tonight," he said. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 9, 2008

When asked before last night's game what it would take to beat the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau cracked that his team needed lucky bounces and ugly goals.

They ended up getting one of each at Verizon Center.

Brooks Laich and Tom Poti scored early, and goaltender Brent Johnson thwarted a penalty shot late for the injury-depleted Capitals, who hung on for a 3-1 victory in a contest Boudreau said was easily the season's most intense.

Johnson, making his third consecutive appearance in place of struggling No. 1 goalie José Theodore, earned the first star for his 28-save effort against a Rangers team that came to Washington tied for the conference lead in goals. Boudreau praised Johnson's effort, but the coach stopped short of naming him the starter for tomorrow's anticipated matchup against Olie Kolzig, Johnson's old friend, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Right now Brent is really playing well, and he's in a position he hasn't been in for quite a few years," Boudreau said. "So I hope he's relishing it. He's playing every game like it's his last. He's playing great and we love it."

Arguably the most satisfying victory of the season, however, wasn't a sure thing until the final seconds. The Capitals, who were without injured veterans Chris Clark, Shaone Morrisonn and Sergei Fedorov, brought a 2-0 lead into the third period, but the Rangers' Aaron Voros cut the edge in half when his power-play shot deflected off of Poti's stick and eluded Johnson at 6 minutes 27 seconds.

About three minutes later, Chris Drury was hooked on a breakaway by Alex Ovechkin and awarded a penalty shot. Johnson, though, came up huge for his teammates, poking away the puck from the Rangers' captain before he could get off a shot.

The Rangers weren't finished yet. Alexander Semin was called for tripping Scott Gomez with 2:15 left to play. Johnson again made sure the Rangers didn't get even. Meantime, Semin stepped out of the penalty box and fired a no-look slap shot from deep in his own end into New York's vacated net to help the Capitals improve to 5-0-1 at home this season, 11-0-1 dating to last season. Semin's seven goals in the third period and overtime lead the NHL.

"It was late in the game, just over two minutes left and obviously you don't want to give them another power play," said Johnson, who is 2-0-1 with a .953 save percentage in the three starts. "But our guys did a great job of blocking out and I got to see the shots."

As for his game-altering poke-check on Drury, Johnson said: "It's easier for me to come out and challenge and leave him little room to do anything. He came in so close, and I was able to get my stick on it."

Ovechkin, though, saw his career-long goal drought grow to nine games. He didn't factor into the scoring, but he was a threat all night. He led the Capitals with four hits.

"Alex will take care of himself," Boudreau said. "It's a moot point. He's playing hard."

Johnson's performance was the focus after the game. Before the opening faceoff, however, the talk was about the other goalie, the Rangers' three-time Vezina Trophy finalist.

Lundqvist (25 saves) was stellar in the opening minutes. But the Capitals were doing things they haven't done consistently this season, like shooting instead of passing and crashing the net -- and it paid off.

On the Capitals' first goal, the team's first power-play tally in four games, Semin misfired. The puck bounced off the glass over the net, off the crossbar, off the top of Lundqvist's helmet and back in front. Laich took a swipe at it from the side of the net and got just enough to send it into the net at 9:14 on the power play as Nicklas Backstrom crashed the crease, distracting Lundqvist.

The second goal wasn't any prettier.

Boyd Gordon raced toward the crease but fumbled the puck as he got to Lundqvist. It wound up squirting past the goalie's outstretched glove and directly to a pinching Poti, who flipped in the puck at 17:06 to make it 2-0. The goal was reviewed because Lundqvist had pushed the goalpost off its mooring with his skate. But it was allowed to stand, enraging Lundqvist and Rangers Coach Tom Renney.

Was it a statement win? Laich hopes so.

"We feel like we're a good hockey team," Laich said. "We were excited for this game. We wanted to measure ourselves, and we passed the test tonight."

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