By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
NASHVILLE, March 10 -- Considering they surrendered a goal in the opening minute and saw two teammates get bloodied in brutal fights later in the first period, Tuesday night's game at Sommet Center couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for the slumping Washington Capitals.
But they overcame all of that early adversity, persevered despite a number of eye-popping saves by Nashville Predators goaltender Dan Ellis, then got the game-winner from Sergei Fedorov 2 minutes 20 seconds into overtime, lifting them to a 2-1 victory.
The win snapped the Capitals' season-high four-game losing streak and sent them to Philadelphia for another important game on Thursday with some much-needed confidence.
"This was a great character, courageous game," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I thought we played about as good a game as we've played in a long time."
The Capitals' emergence from their funk has been a slow process. It began with their 2-1 loss to Toronto. It continued with their 4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh. But now, thanks to Fedorov's timely tally, they can officially say that it's over.
In the four-on-four extra session, Alexander Semin, who extended his run of strong individual performances, passed the puck to Viktor Kozlov, who quickly zipped it to Fedorov, who buried the Capitals' 44th shot of the night behind Ellis, who earned the No. 1 star.
"It was a good character win for us," Fedorov said. "It's something we needed to shake things up. It's a great feeling. I'm very happy Viktor saw me. The rest was history."
After being frustrated by Ellis, who started in place of Calder Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne, for the opening 38 minutes of the game, the Capitals finally broke through with 1:21 remaining in the second period.
Nicklas Backstrom finished off tic-tac-toe passes from Alex Ovechkin and Kozlov to send the game into the third tied at 1. Kozlov finished with a pair of assists after going pointless in the previous five games.
Ellis, though, was even better in the third period. He made a highlight save on Backstrom, diving back with an outstretched stick to swipe the puck from midair.
"I thought, 'Hey it's a goal,' " Backstrom said. "I got it up a little bit, but he made a great save. He played great for them tonight."
Less than a minute later, an apparent go-ahead goal by Tomas Fleischmann was wiped out because the Washington winger was ruled to have directed the puck in with a distinct kicking motion.
Ellis got a break there. Then earned one a few minutes later. Ovechkin took a feed from Mike Green, then fired a one-timer that Ellis somehow prevented from entering the Predators net with about 4:30 remaining in regulation.
"He really stood on his head for them," Fedorov said of Ellis, who had dropped five of his previous six starts. "I thought we really could have had two goals in the third. But he saved them."
The Predators pounded their guests with their fists and edged them on the scoreboard in a first period that couldn't have started worse for the Capitals.
They were hemmed in their own end almost immediately, and after José Theodore (27 saves) made three stops, Ryan Suter whipped a wrist shot from the point through a screen into the net only 50 seconds in.
"That's about as bad a first shift as we've been involved with, at least since I've been there," Boudreau said.
Jordin Tootoo decked Donald Brashear in the corner with a clean shoulder check. A few shifts later, Matt Bradley crushed Tootoo from behind along the corner boards. Moments later, things got ugly. Brashear squared off with Wade Belak, who absorbed a couple of punches before dropping Brashear to the ice with a left jab. Brashear, one of the most feared fighters in the game, was left bloodied.
On the ensuing faceoff, Tootoo settled a score with Bradley. Tootoo, who is serenaded with dozens of whistles in the stands each time he's on the ice, landed a couple of stern jabs -- and a head butt -- that left Bradley bleeding profusely from the nose. The game was delayed for three minutes while the ice crew scraped the blood from the ice.
"We knew they went to war for us, so our guys took it upon themselves to go to war for them," Boudreau said.
Bradley returned in the second period after receiving stitches; Brashear suffered a sprained knee and did not return.
But the Capitals suddenly had a rallying point.
"We just showed those two guys who got in a fight and a little bit hurt, that we're willing to work hard for them," Fedorov said. "We wanted to show to them that we are a team. So we kept plugging away, plugging away and we were able to score."
Backstrom added: "It was a step forward. The whole team played hard. It something we have to continue and start winning games again."
Capitals Note: Michael Nylander missed his second straight game with an upper body injury. He practiced with the team Tuesday morning and could play as soon as Thursday.