By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 12, 2009
In a span of about nine minutes Friday night, Mike Green went from goat to hero for the Washington Capitals.
Late in regulation, the defenseman made a turnover that allowed Carolina Hurricanes to pull even. But in overtime he showed the high-reward side to his occasionally high-risk style when he ripped a shot past Cam Ward to lift the Capitals to a 4-3 victory at Verizon Center over the NHL's worst team.
Green's sixth goal ensured the Capitals, who also got a pair of goals from Alexander Semin, remained atop the NHL standings, boosted their record in the Southeast Division to 8-0-0 and sent them to Toronto for a game Saturday night with momentum.
"He was the first one that came up to me after the game and apologized," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Green, who was on the ice for six of the seven goals scored. "I said no need to apologize, you know? Really good players, if they're having a bad game, still have a tendency to step up and be in the limelight at some point on a positive note."
On the winner, Green took a nifty pass from Nicklas Backstrom (two assists), settled a bouncing puck and fired a shot past Ward's blocker 1 minute 16 seconds into the overtime. His reaction said it all. Green pumped his fist, skated to the side boards and leaped hard into the glass before being mobbed by teammates.
"I felt like I had a few chances that I didn't really have my feel," Green said. "I was excited it went in because it was overtime and I didn't have a great game at the start of the game."
About Backstrom's pass, Green said: "For him to make that pass through two guys and over [Alex Ovechkin's] stick, that was just an incredible play by Nicky. Seriously, not many guys can make that."
Green certainly enjoyed it more than watching Tim Gleason race in the opposite direction after picking off his pass late in regulation. With Joni Pitkanen in the penalty box for interference, Green made a fade-away pass high in the offensive zone.
Gleason, wearing a full shield after an Ovechkin shot rode up his stick in the second period and left him with a gruesome gash, skated the length of the ice and beat José Theodore with a slap shot at 13:30 that forced overtime. It was only the 14th shot of the game for Carolina, which was outshot 40-19.
"Their D-man made a great play," Green said of the turnover. "I didn't even see him."
Boudreau added, "When Mike gets in trouble he gets too cute and makes plays off his back foot."
But Green more than made up for the miscue in extra time. The goal delivered a measure of redemption not only for him but for his teammates. Because, for the second consecutive game, the Capitals put forth a disappointing first-period effort.
Jiri Tlusty, acquired earlier this month from Toronto, opened the scoring in his Carolina debut, finishing off a two-on-one on the Hurricanes' first shot, only 2:01 into the contest.
The play began when Green went down in the Washington end after being punched in the face. By the time he got up and headed to the bench, the Hurricanes were on an odd-man break that John Erskine misplayed at the other end.
"I just got hit and I kind of went fuzzy there for a second," said Green, who was awarded the red hard hat from his teammates. "When I got up, they had already scored."
Boudreau said he chastised Green for staying down.
Eric Staal made it 2-0 when his second swipe on a wraparound attempt somehow squeezed between Theodore and the goal post. Boudreau didn't say much about Theodore's performance, other than to hint that he's going to start rookie Michal Neuvirth against the Maple Leafs.
"He didn't look comfortable on a lot of shots, let's just put it that way," Boudreau said.
At the other end, Ward did all he could to keep the Hurricanes in the game. But it was just too much to ask.
Late in the second period, Semin stopped a crossing pass from Ovechkin, picked his spot and rifled a wrist shot over Ward's glove. Then, after a video review upheld an on-ice ruling that Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu had kicked a puck into the Capitals' net, Semin struck again. Sprung by Backstrom's long pass, Semin converted a breakaway, knocking his own rebound past a sprawled Ward to knot the score, 2-2, with 0.6 of a second remaining in the second period. Earlier in the second period, Boudreau had reunited Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin on the same line.
"Anytime you score a goal at the end of the period," Boudreau said, "in the last minute or something, it gives you life and deflates the other team."
Capitals notes: Semyon Varlamov, who suffered a strained groin muscle on the final shot he faced Monday night, has been placed on injured reserve. That means he cannot return until Tuesday at the earliest, though Boudreau said the rookie goalie could be out until Buffalo visits on Dec. 23. . . .
Brian Pothier, who left Wednesday's game in the second period and did not return, suffered a rib injury. He could miss a few weeks. . . .
Mike Knuble (broken finger), Matt Bradley (family leave) and Mathieu Perreault (food poisoning) all returned to the lineup.