By Tarik El-Bashir
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
NEW YORK -- For one night, at least, Matt Bradley stole the spotlight from Alex Ovechkin.
Bradley got into a momentum-turning fight midway through the first period, then scored the go-ahead goal with 4 minutes 51 seconds remaining to lift the Washington Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers.
Ovechkin also tallied on Tuesday in his anticipated return from a six-game absence with an injury, but it was Bradley's clutch, Ovechkin-like goal that everyone was toasting in the visitors' dressing room at Madison Square Garden afterward.
"Bradley was our MVP of the night," said defenseman Brian Pothier, whose empty-net goal with 17 seconds left clinched the win. "His fight changed the momentum of the game and scores the goal that seals the deal for us. Every time he had the puck he was doing something with it. And when he didn't have it, he was hitting someone. He was great tonight."
Bradley's goal also bailed out Pothier, who was in the penalty box when Marian Gaborik scored his second goal of the game early in the third period to even the score, 2-2. That's how it remained until Bradley stole the puck from Rangers defenseman Wade Redden late in the period.
After the puck got around Redden, Bradley outraced Redden and his defensive partner, Matt Gilroy, into the Rangers' zone. Bradley did a good job of protecting the puck, waited until goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (22 saves) went down and then snapped the puck over his glove for the decisive score.
"He's got enough goals for the past couple of years," Bradley joked when asked about stealing the spotlight from Ovechkin. "I can have one, I guess."
Bradley provided the Capitals with an offensive boost on a night they needed one.
Although they got one Russian winger back, they lost another.
Alexander Semin was sent home to Arlington to see a doctor, according to Coach Bruce Boudreau, who acknowledged last week that Semin was playing through "some bumps and bruises."
One of the injuries is believed to be to his right wrist, which he hurt in Florida on Nov. 6. The winger was unleashing a shot when he was hit by Keith Ballard and has been wearing a tight wrap around it since. Semin played through the wrist injury while Ovechkin was sidelined and the wrist apparently did not improve.
With a depleted lineup that was missing Semin and Mike Knuble (broken finger), the night got off to a poor start for the Capitals, who fell behind, 1-0, just 86 seconds into the game after Gaborik fired a rebound past Semyon Varlamov (18 saves).
Midway through the period, Bradley got into a fight with Aaron Voros and suffered a nasty gash over his left eye. Bradley held his own, and his scrap seemed to spark the Capitals, who had been outplayed in the opening moments.
Then Ovechkin did his thing.
The winger blasted a one-timer from the point on the power play past Lundqvist at 15:06 to even the score and retake the NHL goal-scoring lead with his 15th of the season.
If the goal wasn't enough proof that Ovechkin was completely recovered from the strain near his left shoulder that had sidelined him since Nov. 1, the celebration should have been. Ovechkin dropped to one knee, kissed his left glove and immediately threw up his arm -- something he couldn't do 10 days ago.
"It's always nice when you get hurt and you come back and you score in the first period, on your first shot," Ovechkin said. "You feel pretty good about yourself."
Coach Bruce Boudreau added: "I think he was good for a first game. He can shoot the puck and had seven hits. He didn't exactly ease his way into the lineup."
Ovechkin was not credited with an assist on the Capitals' second goal, scored by Brooks Laich, but he had a hand in setting it up.
Laich gave the Capitals the lead late in the second period on the power play when he went to the net, then jammed a pass from Chris Clark between Lundqvist's pads for a 2-1 lead. Ovechkin had gotten the puck to Clark with a cross-ice pass.
The Capitals, however, couldn't stay out of the penalty box, and couldn't hold the lead, either. Pothier was whistled for high-sticking while killing off a penalty, and Gaborik struck for the second time, snapping a loose puck over Varlamov from a tight angle at 8:23 to knot the score, 2-2.
Then an unlikely hero made the play of the game.
"He was pretty good," Boudreau said of Bradley. "That's what he's got. He's got oodles of character."
Capitals notes: Boudreau became the fastest Capitals coach to 100 victories. . . . Quintin Laing suffered a broken jaw when he was struck by a Michal Rozsival shot in the third period and will be out weeks. He stayed in New York for observation, Boudreau said. . . . Goaltender José Theodore returned to Arlington to tend to family matters and missed the game, so the team recalled rookie Michal Neuvirth from the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears to back up Varlamov. Theodore is expected to return to practice on Wednesday, according to a team official.