By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 15, 2009
While the score sheet shows that Washington Capitals goaltender José Theodore yielded four goals, it doesn't tell the entire story of last night's 5-4 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Theodore was the Capitals' best player on a night when he had to be. The veteran stopped 28 shots, including four breakaways and several quality opportunities on a power play in overtime, to clinch Washington's third straight win and snap its four-game losing streak at Verizon Center.
"It wasn't just [in overtime]. José was great all night," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "If he wasn't on top of his game, they would have six or seven. Easy, easy. I mean, they had four breakaways in the second period."
Alexander Semin led the way offensively for the Capitals, recording a goal and three assists and scoring the decisive goal in the shootout. He has 13 points in four games against the Hurricanes this season and has points in nine straight games, a career best. But Semin was also on the ice for all four of Carolina's goals and drew some criticism from his coach.
"He was on for every goal," Boudreau said flatly. "That's where the action was. Offensively he was great."
Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom also scored for the Capitals, who extended their lead over Carolina to 13 points with 12 games remaining in the regular season for Washington.
Before the Capitals could celebrate in front of a third straight sellout crowd, though, they had to survive a scare in overtime. Defenseman Tom Poti was whistled for hooking, leaving his teammates to kill off a four-on-three power play. Theodore made sure they did, turning away five shots -- three from Carolina leading goal scorer Eric Staal -- to force the game to the shootout.
In penalty shots, Theodore shined in a situation where he's been dominant throughout his career, stopping Tuomo Ruutu before poke-checking shootout specialist Jussi Jokinen. At the other end, Semin and Ovechkin (eight shots on goal) scored on Cam Ward to clinch the win.
Much of the talk afterward was about the Capitals returning to their winning ways on home ice, where they started the season 18-1-1 but are now 26-9-2. Boudreau and his players considered themselves fortunate to earn both points on a night when they misfired on a rare five-on-one break and blew a pair of two-goal leads.
"We can't be cheating the way we are when we get a lead," winger Eric Fehr said. "We have to get back in the D-zone and stop looking for the stretch passes. We thought it was going to be an easy game and it almost came back to cost us."
Erik Cole put the Hurricanes ahead 1-0 at 9 minutes 53 seconds after Capitals defenseman John Erskine's clearing attempt hit Staal in the chest. Sixty-six seconds later, Green ended his seven-game goal drought to even the score 1-1 when the defenseman sneaked backdoor and then snapped a pass from Semin past Ward.
Ovechkin scored on the Eastern Conference's best power play, which went 3 for 4, with 1:59 remaining in the opening period to restore the lead at 2-1. The goal puts him one shy of becoming the first Capital to record three 50-goal seasons.
In the second period, Semin snagged a loose puck in the slot, spun and shot it past Ward to put Washington ahead 3-1 at 1:30. Moments later, the Capitals failed to covert a rare five-on-one break when Ward stuffed Green, and the Hurricanes made them pay at the other end.
With so many Washington players deep in the Carolina end, a long pass from Dennis Seidenberg sprung Staal and Ray Whitney on an odd-man rush that Staal finished with a rebound goal.
"I don't know if I've ever seen that before," Fehr said of the five-on-one. "We can't have everyone jumping in like that. We have to have a couple of guys stay back. It would have been nice to bury it. But when you don't it comes back down to the other end and they put it in."
Ovechkin added with a laugh, "I think Green [now] understand that he's 'D,' not a forward."
Another power-play goal by the Capitals -- this one by Backstrom -- restored the two-goal lead. But the Hurricanes pinned Washington in its own end as a hooking penalty to Semin was expiring and Whitney fired a shot between Theodore's pads to send the game into the third period with the Capitals clinging to a 4-3 lead. The goal came on a delayed penalty to Washington.
That slim edge didn't last. Carolina defenseman Niclas Wallin fired a slap shot from the point that hit a stick in front, making it change trajectory before eluding Theodore at 10:47.
"We persevered," Boudreau said. "I'm not saying we had a bad game at all. I'm just saying we had some meltdowns. And when you have meltdowns against great players, you usually pay the price and we did."