By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 2009
The Washington Capitals have been known in recent years for having two players -- Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin -- capable of single-handedly altering the outcome of a game.
It's safe to say they now have a third.
Mike Green, the league leader in goals and points among defensemen, scored twice last night, including one into an empty net from 168 feet out, to lead the Capitals to a 3-1 victory at Verizon Center over the Florida Panthers, their closest pursuer in the Southeast Division.
"He's pretty good," Coach Bruce Boudreau said with a laugh. "And he even played well defensively, which is really good. Everything he's touching is turning to gold, and I hope it doesn't end. He's got tons of confidence right now."
Green, 23, has scored at least one goal in six consecutive games, extending a franchise record for defensemen, and his total of 19 represents a new career high. He led all defensemen last year with 18.
The win all but erased the memory of Thursday's 5-4 loss to Los Angeles. But more important, it extended the Capitals' lead over the Panthers to 14 points as they seek their second straight division crown.
"The last thing we wanted to do was give Florida any life" in the division race, Boudreau said.
Green's empty-net goal with 1 minute 13 seconds remaining sparked a celebration on the ice, the bench and in the sold-out stands. But it also allowed teammate Shaone Morrisonn to breathe a big sigh of relief.
Morrisonn was ejected for checking Cory Stillman from behind, drawing a five-minute major and a game misconduct with 5:01 remaining. Sergei Fedorov was already in the penalty box for holding, so the Panthers had a five-on-three advantage for 1:05 and at least a one-man advantage for virtually the rest of the game.
That's when the Capitals' penalty killers -- David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Tom Poti (game-high four blocked shots) and Brooks Laich in particular -- finally managed to blank an opponent after yielding a power-play goal in 13 straight games, a franchise record. The unit held the Panthers' 22nd-ranked power play scoreless in four opportunities
"Eventually that streak had to end," Boudreau said. "I thought the penalty killers did a tremendous job tonight."
Morrisonn added: "I didn't try to push [Stillman] too hard. I think he was a little off balance. It's not a good thing when he comes up bleeding. It's in the past. We killed the penalty. I was very relieved."
Florida mustered no shots on the two-man advantage as it attempted to tie the game. Then with goaltender Tomas Vokoun on the bench for an extra attacker, Green fired a shot from deep inside the Capitals zone nearly the length of the ice to clinch the win. The Panthers only had one shot in the final five minutes, and Washington was credited with six blocked shots.
"That was intense," Green said. "Our forwards did a great job blocking shots."
The night began much like Thursday's loss to Los Angeles, in which Alexander Semin scored 15 seconds in before the Capitals fell. Last night, Eric Fehr whipped a blistering slap shot from the circle past Vokoun only 33 seconds into the first period. Linemate Tomas Fleischmann set up Fehr with a slick pass between two Panthers from the wall.
A few minutes later, the Capitals were awarded a four-minute power play when Stephen Weiss whacked Laich in the face with his stick. But instead of taking a two-goal lead, a tripping infraction assessed to Green neutralized the advantage and Keith Ballard scored four-on-four to even the game, 1-1.
José Theodore (20 saves) got his arm on Ballard's slap shot from the high slot, but the goalie was screened and didn't get a good look at the puck until it was bouncing off his arm and into the net.
"He shut the door," Boudreau said of his goalie. "He did what he's been doing the past month."
The game remained knotted until the opening moments of the third period, which began with the Capitals on the power play.
Ovechkin (12 shots) brought the puck into the slot, faked a slap shot and dished the puck to Green. The defenseman settled the puck, and with his trademark wrist shot snapped it past Vokoun to put the Capitals up 2-1.
"Great fake by Alex," Green said. "He was shooting everything. So I thought he was going to shoot, but it was a good pass by him. It was a huge win. It was good to take the wind out of their sails. The next time they play us, hopefully they'll remember us."
Capitals Notes: Defenseman Staffan Kronwall, who was claimed on reentry waivers from Toronto on Friday, arrived in Washington early yesterday morning. But he was unable to practice because his pads and sticks had not arrived and he was unable to play last night because of immigration paperwork that must be completed. . . .
Viktor Kozlov (groin muscle pull) missed his second straight game.