By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 11, 2009
MONTREAL, Jan. 10 -- Milan Jurcina spun around, looking right, then left. But the towering Washington Capitals defenseman never saw the puck.
Montreal Canadiens winger Sergei Kostitsyn, though, saw it lying between Jurcina's skates, swooped in and fired a shot past goaltender Brent Johnson with 21.2 seconds remaining Saturday night to send the Capitals to a doubly devastating 5-4 defeat at Bell Centre.
Not only did the loss give Washington its first back-to-back defeats in more than six weeks, it also ended Coach Bruce Boudreau quest to earn a spot behind the Eastern Conference all-star team's bench in this very arena later this month.
"I saw it go off [Karl] Alzner's glove, and I don't know what happened after that," Jurcina said of his costly blunder. "I just tried to spin, I think. And the puck just stayed between my legs. There's 21 seconds left, it can't happen, something like that. Tough break."
Boudreau covered his face with his hands as 21,273 celebrated all around him. Fifteen minutes later, Jurcina sat alone on a bench in the visitors' dressing room, his chin perched on clenched fists, his eyes set straight ahead.
"He couldn't find it, and didn't do anything to find it," Boudreau said. "He could have cross checked [Kostitsyn]. Anything. If you can't find the puck, don't just stand there. Cross-check him so he can't get the puck. Don't look in your feet."
The Capitals could have punched their coach's ticket to all-star weekend by beating Columbus on Friday night, but they lost for the first time in eight games. Then they could have clinched it here, but once again, Boudreau and his players came up short. Instead, Montreal's Guy Carbonneau will assist Boston's Claude Julien on Jan. 25. The positions went to each conference's top two teams (based on standing points percentage) as of Saturday night.
"With 21 seconds to go I thought about it," Boudreau said. "I know the players tried hard. You could tell by the way the players celebrated, both teams were well aware what would happen for their coach if they were successful."
The Capitals brought a 2-1 lead into the third period. But the penalty trouble that plagued them all night cost them at a most inopportune moment. Robert Lang scored on a five-on-three power play 1 minute 56 seconds into the final frame, and then, only 43 seconds later, Andrei Kostitsyn, the brother of Sergei, beat Johnson (30 saves) to put the Canadiens ahead, 3-2.
Tomas Fleischmann pulled the Capitals even moments later, though the reprieve was only temporary. Tomas Plekanec (two goals) split the Washington defense, took a long pass from Max Pacioretty off the boards and snapped a wrist shot past Johnson to restore the Canadiens' lead, 4-3, only 16 seconds later.
The Capitals, who were praised by Boudreau for their resiliency, had one comeback left in them. Alex Ovechkin's blast on the power play from the middle of the circle hit Michael Nylander's foot and slipped past Jaroslav Halak, knotting the game 4-4 with 7:39 left to play. Halak finished with 31 saves; Nylander was credited with only his second goal since Oct. 16.
Then came the moment that might haunt Jurcina for some time to come.
"We kind of shot ourselves in the foot by giving them a couple of goals," defenseman Mike Green said. "Then that happens with 21 seconds left. It's just kind of frustrating."
The third-period flurry provided a fitting finish for a game that started just as fast. Both teams came out determined in front of the boisterous sellout crowd, and the result was one of the most entertaining periods of the season.
Alexander Semin (two goals) put the Capitals in front, 1-0, with his 15th goal of the season 7:59 into the contest after redirecting Green's point shot past Halak.
Sixty-six seconds later, Alex Kovalev was whistled for high-sticking Alzner. But instead of seizing control of the game, the Capitals allowed the Canadiens to get right back into it.
Plekanec sneaked behind the Capitals, then Mike Komisarek's clearing pass wound up springing him on a breakaway. Plekanec, one of the league's fastest skaters, snapped a wrist shot through Johnson to even the score 1-1, 15 seconds after Kovalev went to the penalty box.
The pace slowed in the second half of the game as both teams went conservative, waiting for the other to make a mistake. It finally happened with about six minutes remaining. Semin pressured Canadiens defenseman Patrice Brisebois into a turnover just along the boards, barely inside the Montreal zone. Semin lifted Brisebois's stick, faked Halak to the ice, then lifted the puck underneath the crossbar from an impossibly tight angle at 13:04, sending the Capitals into the third period leading, 2-1.
"We allowed four goals in the third," Boudreau said. "That's dumb hockey. It's dumb."