Washington Capitals Suffer Shootout Loss to Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-2

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TORONTO, March 24 -- For the first 57-plus minutes of Tuesday night's game, the capacity crowd at Air Canada Centre had very little to get excited about. The Washington Capitals had the look of a team waiting for the playoffs to begin and the Toronto Maple Leafs had the appearance of one waiting for vacation.

Then things got interesting. The teams traded goals in the final 2 minutes 9 seconds, Toronto's starting goaltender got ejected and 41-year-old backup Curtis Joseph came off the bench to earn first star honors and lift the Maple Leafs to a 3-2 shootout victory.

The game went from ho-hum to edge-of-your-seat thrilling in a matter of moments late in regulation. Alexander Semin missed a wide open net, whiffing on a loose puck in the crease with about three minutes remaining. Then Toronto defenseman Pavel Kubina fired a shot between José Theodore's pads on the power play to put the Maple Leafs ahead. (Theodore later acknowledged it was a shot he should have stopped.)

Brooks Laich, however, bailed out Semin and Theodore and ensured the Capitals earned at least a point in the standings by jamming the puck past Martin Gerber with 56.1 seconds remaining to force overtime. But that wasn't the craziest part.

Gerber protested to the officials and ended up making contact with linesman Pierre Champoux while arguing that Laich had forced him into the net. Gerber was assessed a game misconduct. So in came Joseph, whose first save was on an Alex Ovechkin one-timer. Joseph followed up that stop with eight more in overtime, including saves on Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Semin in the final minute.

"I've seen a lot of goalies get pulled and the backup come in be unbelievable," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Alex tested him with a really good shot right off the bat. Once he made that save, that livened up the crowd and the crowd got into it. I watch a lot of the Leaf games, and CuJo is normally very good early and then he fades as the game goes on, which may have something to do with age."

Although they salvaged a point, Laich and Boudreau were not pleased with the Capitals' effort in the first 2 1/2 periods. Playing down to the level of its competition -- the Leafs are in 11th place -- has been a problem for Washington in the second half of the season and Tuesday's performance was no exception, even though the Capitals launched 45 shots on net.

"Right now our effort level has to come up," Laich said. "You ask the guys right now and no one is feeling exhausted, feeling like they emptied the tank, which is something we did last year. If you remember, every game was so desperate. We just had to win. We had to play so hard every night, and that's why we were so successful. Right now we're not doing it. But we have to find a way and start ramping it up."

After failing to solve Joseph in overtime, the Capitals had a second shot at earning both points in the standings in the shootout. But Toronto's Jeff Hamilton scored the only goal in the shootout and Joseph turned away Backstrom and Ovechkin while Semin missed the net altogether.

"I don't think he's completely up to snuff," Boudreau said of Semin, who struggled all night after missing Monday's practice with the flu. "That was the fourth game in a row that was below par."

Phil Oreskovic opened the scoring with an ordinary shot from between the blueline and circle that slipped past Theodore.

In the final minute of the second, Toronto's Jamal Mayers was sent off for interference. Thirty-nine seconds later, Ovechkin scored his 51st goal to even things at 1.

Ovechkin's goal was nifty and the reigning MVP also assisted on Laich's dramatic goal late. But the best player on the ice turned out to be Joseph.

"He came in there and showed what 20 years of experience means," Theodore said. "In overtime, we went for two points. I was pretty impressed. You don't know how hard it is just to step in when you're not starting. Then to do it in a tied game -- but he was on top of his game."

Capitals Note: Defenseman Brian Pothier was a healthy scratch. Quintin Laing (torn spleen), Donald Brashear (sprained knee) and Boyd Gordon (broken finger) were out.

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