By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 5, 2010; D01
Soon after the Washington Capitals traded for Scott Walker at Wednesday's deadline, Coach Bruce Boudreau noted how the gritty winger had a knack for scoring important goals.
Well, it took Walker exactly one game to prove Boudreau's point.
The 36-year-old scored twice in the third period, including the winner just 41 seconds after the Tampa Bay Lightning had tied the score, as the Capitals escaped with 5-4 victory at Verizon Center.
"His history," Boudreau said after his team extended its franchise-record home winning streak to 12 games, "has been that he's in the right place at the right time."
Was he ever on Thursday.
Walker scored his first goal after gathering a deflected puck in front and backhanding it between Lightning goaltender Mike Smith's pads from the slot with 9 minutes 49 seconds left to play to put the Capitals ahead 4-2.
It should have been enough. But on a night when Washington was not at its best, a two-goal lead wasn't.
Vincent Lecavalier scored his second goal of the game only 34 seconds after Walker's, then only 1:53 after that, Steven Stamkos knotted the score 4-4 when he drilled Mattias Ohlund's centering pass past Semyon Varlamov, sucking the life out of the capacity crowd and creating a sense of doubt on the Capitals' bench.
Then Walker came to the rescue. With 6:51 remaining, Walker, who had only played six shifts through two periods, deflected Mike Green's point shot in front. The puck hit Smith's pads, but Walker, determined to make the difference, dived and swatted the rebound under the Lightning goalie, then showed the home fans his toothless smile.
"Most of you know my stats, and they're not a huge part of my game," said Walker, who has five goals in 34 games. "But everyone likes to score."
Boudreau added, referring to Walker's second goal: "I don't think it hit the back of the net, but it doesn't matter."
Walker's heroics overshadowed Mike Knuble's sixth two-goal game of the season. It also helped compensate for an ordinary performance by Varlamov, who still seems to be searching for his pre-injury form. The rookie goaltender has allowed 10 goals in his past two starts, his only NHL playing time since missing two months with groin and knee ailments.
"He's getting better," Boudreau said. "The bottom line is he plays and you win."
The story of the game, though, was Walker's big splash in his debut and the play of the other newcomers. Joe Corvo and Eric Belanger, also acquired at the deadline, looked like they're going to need a few games to adjust to Boudreau's system, develop chemistry with their teammates and get comfortable.
Corvo had a plus-minus rating of even in 20:19 of ice time, while Belanger won only five of his 12 draws.
"I though Joe played good," Boudreau said before assessing Belanger's effort by saying, "Eric is going to play an awful lot better when he gets to know his surroundings. We threw a completely different system at these guys and they're going, 'Whoa.' "
Walker earned the game's first star for two momentous goals. Nicklas Backstrom earned the third star for two huge blocked shots.
Late in the second period, the Lightning had 2:50 of consecutive power play time, including 1:54 of four on three. But Backstrom, who had snapped his stick on a clearing attempt, used his thigh to block two point blasts and send the game into the third with the Capitals clinging to a 3-2 edge.
"I don't know how many other stars would be doing that," Boudreau said. "It was definitely a turning point."
Backstrom added: "It hit me on the pants. I had protection. It felt good. Why? I wanted to win."
Playing at home for the first time in 24 days because of the Olympic break, the Capitals got off to a strong start as Eric Fehr opened the scoring at 6:10 after intercepting an errant Victor Hedman pass in the neutral zone. He snapped a shot that sneaked just inside the far post.
But the Capitals, who according to Boudreau seemed to lack focus at times, gave the goal right back. Knuble was whistled for hooking, and 10 seconds later, Steve Downie deflected a point shot by Kurtis Foster between Varlamov's pads to knot the game at 1-1.
Knuble redeemed himself in the second period with his 24th and 25th goals 6:04 apart.
The third period, however, belonged to the second-oldest player on the roster behind Knuble.
"It was nice to chip in and help out," Walker said. "But two points is what I'm looking for every night."