By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 2009
RALEIGH, N.C., March 21 -- Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green played Saturday night despite lingering soreness in his side and moved another goal closer to accomplishing something that hasn't been done in 16 years.
But Green's fifth goal in his past four games -- and 28th on the season -- was the only shot that beat Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, who was stellar in stopping 31 shots to sink the Capitals, 4-1, and extend the surging Hurricanes' streak at RBC Center to eight consecutive victories.
After a scoreless first period, Washington suffered a lull in the second period before the game took a decisive turn in Carolina's favor in the opening minutes of the third.
With one of Carolina's best penalty killers, captain Rod Brind'Amour, in the box for hooking, the Capitals mustered only two shots on Ward during the advantage. Then 14 seconds after the teams returned to even strength, Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen flipped his own rebound past Capitals goalie José Theodore to put the Hurricanes' ahead 2-1.
Theodore was good in allowing three goals on 29 shots (the fourth Carolina goal was scored into an empty net). But Ward was a smidge better, stopping all 12 shots he faced in the third period and 31 overall. Ward was making his 21st straight start and second in two nights.
"We lost the second period; we didn't play any good," said Tomas Fleischmann, who was stopped by Ward three times and saw his pointless drought reach 11 games.
"The second goal decided the game. They scored a goal and we had to open up."
Hurricanes defenseman Anton Babchuk put the game away late, stuffing a rebound past Theodore while the teams skated four-on-four. The Capitals' Alexander Semin and the Hurricanes' Tim Gleason were in the penalty box after being assessed matching roughing penalties.
"It was 1-1 after two and both teams had pretty much the same number of chances," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Both goalies were playing good. But we made a couple of mistakes to get it open and that was it."
The Capitals had one more opportunity in the waning moments as they attacked Ward five skaters on three. But Washington only got two shots on Ward before Hurricanes' defenseman Joe Corvo launched a 182-foot shot into the Capitals' vacated net to clinch Carolina's third straight win overall and hand the Capitals' only their third regulation loss in eight games.
Brind'Amour opened the scoring at 3 minutes 53 seconds with a wrist shot from the middle of the circle that sailed over Theodore. Brind'Amour was wide open when he released the puck, which had been fed to him from the corner by Jussi Jokinen, who also was left unmarked.
Theodore and Washington's penalty kill unit kept the Hurricanes from breaking open the game in the moments that followed. The penalty kill thwarted Carolina's third power play opportunity around the midway mark, then Theodore robbed Tuomo Ruutu, who had an open net after snagging a cross-ice pass from Eric Staal. The Hurricanes' finished 0 for 4 on the power play.
Those missed opportunities came back to haunt the Hurricanes in the final seconds of the second period. Green, who missed the final four minutes of Thursday's game with a ribcage strain, scored off a long rebound to even the score 1-1. With two goals in the final eight games, Green can become the first defenseman to notch 30 since Kevin Hatcher in 1992-93.
The Hurricanes played the final 40 minutes like a team that's fighting to make the playoffs. They're in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference and are in position to meet the Capitals, who are in third.
"Lots of teams are fighting for that last playoff spot and we need to perform," Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier said. "We just made one or two mistakes too many."
Capitals Notes: Winger Chris Bourque was recalled from the minor league Hershey Bears and played in his seventh game with Washington this season. . . . Donald Brashear missed his sixth game straight game with a sprained knee. . . . Quintin Laing remained in a Tampa hospital on Saturday after suffering a torn spleen Thursday. Barring an unforeseen setback, the winger could return to Washington on Monday. . . . Free agent center Trevor Bruess was signed to a two-year entry-level contract that begins in 2009-10. Bruess, from Minnesota State, is expected to report to Hershey next week on an amateur tryout.