At Last Second, Alex Ovechkin Salvages a Point for Washington Capitals in Overtime Loss to New Jersey Devils

Alex Ovechkin (8) exults with the Capitals' bench after his second goal of the night and seventh of the season tied the game at 5 with less than a second left.
Alex Ovechkin (8) exults with the Capitals' bench after his second goal of the night and seventh of the season tied the game at 5 with less than a second left. (By Al Bello -- Getty Images)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2008

NEWARK, Nov. 15 -- It's debatable whether the Washington Capitals actually deserved any reward for their effort Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils, given their miscue-riddled defensive performance at Prudential Center.

But they got a point in the standings anyway thanks to a clutch goal from the reigning most valuable player, and an even better pass from one of the league's hottest players.

Alex Ovechkin snagged a cross-crease dish from Nicklas Backstrom, then forced overtime with his fifth goal in four games as the clock wound down to all zeros. José Theodore and his teammates, however, weren't able to complete the improbable comeback, falling 6-5 in the shootout.

"We had no business getting a point there, but you take them and you look for positives," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Okay [about] the character of never quitting because there were an awful lot of chances to quit and die because we made a ton of mistakes out there."

Zach Parise notched the only goal in penalty shots for the Devils, while New Jersey's goalie, Scott Clemmensen, turned back Viktor Kozlov, Ovechkin and Boyd Gordon to avenge the Devils' 3-1 loss on Friday and end the Capitals' winning streak at five games. Despite the loss, they have earned points in seven straight and nine out of their last 10 games.

Parise's move in the shootout was a thing of beauty, but the play everyone will remember came when the Capitals frantically attacked the Devils' net with six players in the final seconds. Backstrom, who finished with a goal and four assists, found a sliver of space through a mess of legs, skates and sticks. Ovechkin, in one motion, stopped the puck and flipped it past Clemmensen at 19:59, stunning the New Jersey bench and setting off a wild celebration in front of Washington's. The assist was Backstrom's 10th point in three games (two goals and eight assists).

"We've had our moments, chances when we didn't score, but right now our luck has come back," said Ovechkin, who has 10 points in the past five games. "It's an unbelievable feeling to score a goal [in the final second]. The game is probably over. Then you score and all your emotions come back."

It's a good thing the Capitals have two Alexes. Because one night after suffering an injury, Alexander Semin came off the ice during pregame warmups and dejectedly headed down the tunnel that leads to the visitors' dressing room. His night was done before it started.

But even without one of the league's top scorers and veteran center Sergei Fedorov (ankle), the Capitals didn't have trouble generating offense. Preventing goals, however, was another story.

While Theodore's statistics weren't pretty -- five goals on 33 shots -- Saturday's defeat had little to do with him and more to do with the Capitals' repeated failure to clear the puck out of their own end. The most obvious example of this came on the Devils' fifth goal, which was scored by Brian Gionta with 8:20 left to play. Gionta redirected Johnny Oduya's slap pass from the point after the Devils had pinned the Capitals in their own end for more than a minute.

"We came out slow and they came out hard," defenseman John Erskine said. "We executed our game better in our own end [on Friday night]. We had the guy in the slot covered. Tonight that guy was open. They scored a couple of goals off it. The only reason we were in the game was because of José."

The Devils appeared to take control once and for all on Patrik Elias's second goal of the night at 6:06 of the third period after the veteran winger out-raced defenseman Mike Green into the Capitals' zone and fired the puck off of Theodore's arm and into the net.

But about two minutes later, Backstrom responded for the Capitals. The second-year center snapped up a misfire by linemate Kozlov behind Clemmensen to tie the game at 4.

The game began the way too many have for the Capitals -- they yielded a goal on the opponent's first shot for the fifth time in 17 contests.

Devils winger David Clarkson banged in a goal past Theodore only 1:09 in. The Capitals' problems on the play, however, began long before Clarkson skated uncontested down the slot. Twice Capitals defensemen were unable to clear the puck out of the offensive zone.

It was the start of a troubling trend for the Capitals, who have been out-shot in five of their past six games.

"I think it's commitment playing defense," Boudreau said. "It's tough but I think it's commitment, is what it is. Playing defense is tough. We'll have to go back to the drawing board and check it out. If it wasn't for Theo it would have been 6-3 going into the third. I can't fault him. I praised him, quite frankly. In the second period alone they had so many good chances and I kept looking up and I kept saying, jeez we're still in this. It didn't seem like we deserved to be in it."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company