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No Ovechkin, no problem: Capitals crush Panthers, 6-2

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 5, 2009

Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

With Alex Ovechkin sitting out the first of a two-game suspension Thursday night, the Washington Capitals needed their other Alex to be special. And in his first game back from injury, that's exactly what Alexander Semin was.

Semin scored twice and set up two more to help Semyon Varlamov and the Capitals to a 6-2 pummeling of the penalty-prone Florida Panthers at Verizon Center.

The win was the Capitals' fourth straight overall and third in three games against Florida. It improved their record against the Southeast Division to 6-0-0.

Varlamov made 26 stops to improve to 11-1-2, while Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley, Nicklas Backstrom and Brendan Morrison scored as the Capitals opened a 6-0 lead early in the third period before backing off.

"I like the way we followed the game plan in the beginning [because] we thought they would be tired," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Panthers, who got into Washington around 3 a.m. after beating Colorado in a shootout at home Wednesday night. "We [thought if we] attacked them early and got them down early, they wouldn't have the strength to come back. It worked well."

The Capitals had little trouble generating offense against the 13th-place Panthers despite being without Ovechkin, who also will miss Saturday's game in Philadelphia while serving a suspension for his knee-to-knee hit on Carolina's Tim Gleason. The Capitals are 5-1-1 minus Ovechkin this season and 6-4-1 all time.

While Ovechkin watched from a suite high above the ice, Semin, his good friend and fellow Russian put the Panthers under his spell. Skating on the top line with Brooks Laich and Backstrom, Semin posted his first four-point night since March 14.

"He was well-rested," Boudreau said of Semin, who had missed seven games with a wrist injury. "He should have had a lot of energy."

Varlamov's bid for his second shutout in three starts ended with 3 minutes 22 seconds remaining when Stephen Weiss fired in his own rebound. Only 43 seconds later, Bryan Allen scored from the blue line on a shot that hit Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina before eluding the Capitals' netminder.

Washington dominated the game from the outset, outshooting the Panthers 18-6 in the first period. The Capitals' 44 shots represented a season high.

After a number of near misses in the opening minutes, Semin opened the scoring at 10:34 with a blistering wrist shot over Scott Clemmensen's glove from the right circle.

Only 76 seconds later, Fleischmann put the Capitals ahead 2-0. Fleischmann took a nifty touch pass from Eric Fehr, then ripped a shot past Clemmensen's glove. It was Fleischmann's first goal in eight games and Fehr's 11th point in 12 games since returning from a rib injury.

The goal also ended Clemmensen's night. One night after yielding five goals in Florida's 6-5 shootout victory over the Avalanche, Clemmensen was pulled by Coach Peter DeBoer and replaced by prospect Alexander Salak, who was called up from the minor leagues to take the roster spot of the injured Tomas Vokoun.

Bradley turned the game squarely in Washington's favor with a short-handed goal, scored from the blue line to open the second period. Then Backstrom jammed in a crossing pass from Semin on a two-man advantage.

"A guy that shoots as hard as I do," Bradley joked about his fifth goal, scored on a long, ordinary-looking shot. "The goalie has no chance. For me to score from the blue line, it had to ricochet off somebody because I'm not going to surprise anybody with my shot. Maybe it was a knuckleball or change-up."

In the third period, the Panthers' Mike Duco was ejected for jumping Alexandre Giroux in retaliation for Giroux's crushing hit on Dmitry Kulikov. Duco was assessed two minutes for instigating, five for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct and a 10-minute aggressor infraction. Morrison and Semin each scored on ensuing power plays.

"I thought it was a clean hit, so I didn't expect anything," Giroux said. "When it's [4-0], I guess they were a little frustrated. I don't know who he is. We got a seven-minute power play and we got a couple of goals, so that was the whole point."

Boudreau added: "If they're going to be stupid. It's almost what the game has come to. Now you hit a guy hard, and you think you have to retaliate on that. It was a dumb thing and he totally took his team out of the game."

Capitals notes: Tom Poti (bruised chest) could return Saturday, Boudreau said. . . .

Shaone Morrisonn (concussion), Boyd Gordon (back), Quintin Laing (broken jaw) and Mike Knuble (broken finger) were also out. Morrisonn and Knuble took part in the morning skate. Morrisonn is feeling better, but said he isn't sure when he'll be ready; Knuble, who is on the long-term injury list, is aiming to return until Dec. 9; and Laing is scheduled to have the wires removed from his jaw Tuesday.

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