By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 20, 2009;
EDMONTON, ALBERTA -- After watching the Edmonton Oilers hold his team scoreless through two periods, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau resorted to his last option: He closed the door to the visitors' dressing room at Rexall Place and blasted his best players.
Alex Ovechkin took his coach's words to heart, then went out and scored twice in the first 6 minutes 37 seconds of the third period, sparking a 4-2 victory that ended the Capitals' 13-year drought in this building.
"I don't like yelling at [Ovechkin], but sometimes you see guys who look tired and down and they need a little boost," Boudreau said. "I tried to give it to him and challenged him. I started him right off the bat. Instead of saying, 'Woe is me, why is the coach yelling at me?' he took up the challenge and said, 'I'll show you,' and went out there and got three points in the third and led us to a victory."
Tomas Fleischmann netted the winner with 6:47 to play, and Nicklas Backstrom clinched it late with his fourth goal in four games.
Goalie Michal Neuvirth, meantime, rebounded from a yielding a fluky goal late in the second period to pick up his first win of the season with a steady 26-save effort. It was the 21-year-old's first start since struggling in Toronto a week earlier.
"I thought he did a great job of rebound control and smothering pucks," Boudreau said. "He did a great job, and it's great for his confidence. Practicing three days with us this week with NHL shooters instead of American league shooters was a real big help for him."
The victory was Washington's first in Edmonton since 1996, a span of eight games. In the previous seven contests, they had been outscored, 35-11. The win also made these Capitals the fastest in team history to reach 50 points.
And the best player in the league was the biggest reason they managed to rally after falling into a 2-0 hole.
With hundreds of fans wearing his red No. 8 jersey and rooting him on, Ovechkin was dominant from the opening faceoff in the third period.
Just 32 seconds in, Ovechkin scored his first goal in three games to cut the Capitals' deficit to 2-1. Edmonton goalie Jeff Deslauriers (38 saves) stopped Ovechkin's wraparound attempt, but Ovechkin stayed with it and stuffed the rebound underneath the goalie's pads.
"We felt that if we could score one, right now they are a fragile team," Boudreau said. "They might go into a shell and retreat."
Boudreau was right. About six minutes later, Ovechkin tied the game by again putting in his own rebound. The two-time MVP gathered the puck in the neutral zone, streaked into Oilers' zone with speed and unloaded a blast that Deslauriers kicked out with his pad, but the rebound came right back to Ovechkin, who buried it to the short side.
In all, Ovechkin directed 13 shots on net in the final 20 minutes, including four that were blocked and two that went wide.
After pulling the Capitals even, they were awarded a 1 minute 51 second two-man advantage. But the unit came up empty after Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid pulled a slow rolling puck off the goal line.
In the end, the power play's failure didn't matter. Fleischmann scored the winner, blasting a one-timer from the high slot past Deslauriers.
Fleischmann was also confident. So much so, he promised Neuvirth after the second period that the Capitals were going to rally.
"I knew we were going to do it," Fleischmann said. "Those two goals they scored, I would say they were a little bit lucky. I think we had the game in our hands, but we didn't push hard enough. I knew we could do it."
But after 40 minutes, it appeared the Capitals might be headed toward an eighth straight defeat here.
Deslauriers, who has replaced injured veteran Nikolai Khabibulin (back), frustrated them in the first period. Then in the second, the Capitals mustered only eight shots as the Oilers seized control.
Only 1:05 into the second, a turnover by Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz resulted in a two-on-none for the Oilers. Patrick O'Sullivan took the first shot, which Nuevirth stopped. But Shawn Horcoff was right there to collect the rebound and stuff it past the Capitals goalie, who was backed into the net.
Late in the second period, Andrew Cogliano fired a centering pass from the corner, but before the puck got to a teammate, it hit Karl Alzner's skate and deflected over Neuvirth 16:42, giving the Oilers a 2-0 lead thanks to one bad turnover and one bad bounce.
"I was like, 'Wow, I can't believe what was happening,' " Neuvirth said. "I was feeling great."
But the Oilers could only contain Ovechkin and Washington's powerful offense for so long.
Capitals notes: One day after reporting discomfort in the groin muscle he strained on Dec. 7, goalie Semyon Varlamov skated Saturday morning but said he felt no better. He had hoped to return Wednesday, but that seems unlikely now. "He didn't feel comfortable," Boudreau said. "He said he's not 100 percent yet [and] we don't want to make this a six-week injury, so we pulled it back a little bit." . . .
Defensemen John Erskine and Shaone Morrisonn were scratched. Erskine was healthy, but Morrisonn is still feeling effects of a hit he took from Colorado's David Koci on Tuesday. . . .
Rookie center Kyle Wilson also was a healthy scratch. After notching a pair of assists in his debut in Denver, he did not record a shot on goal or point against Vancouver. Brooks Laich, who normally plays wing, replaced Wilson as the third-line center. . . .
Quintin Laing returned from a 14-game layoff with a broken jaw. The fourth-line winger wore a full face cage as a precaution. . . .
Goaltending coach Arturs Irbe, a native of Latvia, has been inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.