By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
UNIONDALE, N.Y., Dec. 16 -- The Washington Capitals were expected to win easily, and after dominating the first period and then taking a two-goal lead into the third period, it seemed they would.
But that's not exactly how things unfolded.
The Capitals needed an overtime goal by Alex Ovechkin -- his franchise record sixth career tally in extra time -- to escape Nassau Coliseum with a 5-4 victory over the reeling New York Islanders.
Ovechkin forced a turnover in the corner, took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom, circled in the slot while patiently picking out an opening, then snapped a wrist shot past Joey MacDonald with 10.7 seconds remaining to clinch the Capitals' fourth consecutive victory and help them avoid the embarrassment of collapsing against one of the NHL's worst teams.
"I'm happy to have the record," said Ovechkin, who scored twice in the game. "But we stopped playing after the second period. We didn't listen to our coach, what he said. We didn't move, we didn't skate. So it's [fortunate] we win the game."
The Capitals had a 4-2 lead and were out-shooting the Islanders 33-20 when the third period began. But instead of finishing off a team that has the third-lowest payroll in the NHL and has not won a game this month, the Capitals coasted. It proved to be an enormous miscalculation.
Islanders defenseman Andy Sutton scored his second goal of the season from the point with 8 minutes 41 seconds remaining, beating Brent Johnson after a deflection off a skate in front and trimming Washington's lead to 4-3.
Then Jon Sim redirected a shot by Mark Streit with 2:13 left to play to force overtime.
In the extra session, Johnson made a dazzling glove save on Trent Hunter. Then Ovechkin did what he has done more than any Capital in team history. He had been tied with Peter Bondra and Kelly Miller.
"That's what superheroes are all about," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But Alex would be the first one to tell you that he wasn't very good tonight. But you put him out on the ice in those types of situations because you know he'll rise to the occasion."
Boudreau said he spared his players a tongue lashing in the locker room after the game. Even though, he said, they deserved one after a passionless performance in the third period.
"We let them back in the game when he had them on the hook at 2-0," Boudreau said. "It looked like we were taking everything for granted, that everything was going to turn out okay. We got lucky today."
Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich and Milan Jurcina also scored for the Capitals, while Johnson made 35 saves, including two in overtime. The Islanders, meantime, lost their seventh in a row and have yielded four or more goals in six of them. MacDonald made 35 saves for New York.
The Capitals started strong, out-shot the Islanders 15-12 in the opening 20 minutes and took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission on goals by Gordon and Laich.
Gordon had opened the scoring at 2:54 when he jammed the puck underneath MacDonald, who dropped in his stick during a scramble in the crease. About 10 minutes later, Laich stretched the lead to 2-0 with one of the flukiest goals of the season. On a rush, Laich attempted to put the puck around defenseman Streit. But Laich lost control of the puck, and when MacDonald went down to poke it away with his stick, the goalie whiffed and the puck slid between his pads.
The Capitals continued to cruise until defenseman Sean Collins took an interference penalty, and Doug Weight made him pay. Weight fired a point shot that hit defenseman Tom Poti's stick and eluded Johnson at 16:14. It was the first power-play goal the Capitals had yielded in five games.
One day after breaking two panes of plexiglass in practice with his powerful slap shot, Jurcina used his wrist shot to put the Capitals ahead 3-1. His shot slipped past MacDonald, who was screened, at 6:07 of the second period.
But another Collins penalty allowed the Islanders to keep it close. With the call-up in the penalty box for interference, Richard Park one-timed a shot past Johnson.
The Capitals regained control with a highlight-quality goal. Backstrom tracked down a loose puck in the corner, centered it to Alexander Semin, who in a single motion sent a pass behind his back from the slot to Ovechkin, who sent Washington into the third leading 4-2.
But it almost wasn't enough.
"It was not our best game for us," Backstrom said. "We had a great effort at the end and we ended up winning it. It was a huge, huge two points. We were far too casual in some situations and were too soft in our own zone. But you are always happy when you win."