By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009
TAMPA, Feb. 14 -- Mike Green's eyes were red and burning from the shaving-cream pie Alex Ovechkin had just smeared in his face.
But no amount of discomfort could wipe away Green's smile on a night when the Washington Capitals defenseman made NHL history.
Green scored for the eighth straight game in Saturday night's 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to set the record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman.
What made the milestone all the more special, Green said, was being able to share the moment with his father, Dave, who like many of the Capitals' fathers is accompanying the team on its annual mentors' trip.
"To do it in front of Big Dave, that was great," said Green, who has 22 goals and 50 points to lead all defensemen. "I can't wait to give him a hug. I think he would have been here no matter what, whether it was the fathers' trip or not. But that one was for him."
Green's milestone tally broke a 25-year-old record and edged him to within a game of tying the franchise record for consecutive games with a goal by any player. He can pull even with Mike Gartner (1986-87) and Alan Haworth (1985-86) on Sunday against the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center.
Green's goal, though, was just a single strike in an early offensive outburst that set the stage for the Capitals' eighth straight win over the Lightning, the longest streak for either team in the series.
Alexander Semin had a goal and two assists while goaltender Michal Neuvirth overcame early jitters to earn a win in his NHL debut. Neuvirth, 20, finished with 31 saves, including a scintillating glove save on Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier in the first period that seemed to settle his nerves and boost his confidence.
"I made the save, it was like I can play at this level," said Neuvirth, the eighth player to make his big league debut this season for the Capitals, and the team's second goalie to win his first career start. "It was a big save."
Neuvirth's interview, though, was cut short by another shaving cream pie to the face delivered by Ovechkin, who, like his teammates, was whooping and hollering and slapping high fives in the visitors' dressing room.
"It wasn't a 3-0 first period, and he made some great saves and kept us in the game," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That's what you need goalies to do -- keep you in the game, make that save until you get your legs underneath you. We were the better team the second half of the game."
Neuvirth's performance, however, was overshadowed by Green's feat.
After Green set the record at 5 minutes 33 second of the second period to put the Capitals ahead 4-0, he was caught by surprise when the entire team emptied off the bench to congratulate him.
"It was pretty cool," Green said. "I thought it was just the next line that was coming out."
Boudreau said he checked with General Manager George McPhee and referee Tom Kowal before the game to make sure it would be acceptable for the bench players to spill onto the ice if Green scored.
"When Mike scored, I told them, 'Go on the ice,' " Boudreau said. "They said, 'Are we allowed?' It was a pretty cool thing."
Asked if he deserved some of the credit for helping Green reach the milestone, Boudreau cracked, "Nah, he could have had Mickey Mouse as his coach and he was eventually going to be a great hockey player."
Semin, Ovechkin and Shaone Morrisonn all scored first-period goals to put the Capitals ahead 3-0 and chase Mike McKenna after only 12 shots.
Karri Ramo was in net for the start of the second period, and he became a part of history moments later. On the power play, Green fired a shot that Lightning winger Matt Pettinger went down to block. But the deflected puck wound up settling back in front of him in the slot. Green didn't miss on his second opportunity, rifling the shot off Ramo's glove and into the goal.
"He made a good block," Green said. "But I had the far side [of the net] open."
Neuvirth's only blemish came on a break that he was helpless to prevent. Midway through the second period, Staffan Kronwall, playing in his first game as a Capital, extended his stick to break up a Ryan Malone pass to Martin St. Louis, but the defenseman wound up sending it past Neuvirth to make it 4-1. Eric Fehr's fifth goal in six games provided the final margin.
Capitals Notes: Forward Viktor Kozlov missed his fourth consecutive game with a groin muscle pull. . . . Defensemen Karl Alzner and Milan Jurcina and forward Jay Beagle were healthy scratches.