By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010; D01
One game after sitting out as a healthy scratch, Tomas Fleischmann proved to be the one player the Washington Capitals couldn't do without Wednesday night.
After his team blew an early two-goal lead at Verizon Center, Fleischmann scored the winner in overtime to lift the Capitals to a hard-fought, if sloppy, 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
"It's just a little message," Fleischmann joked in the jubilant home dressing room afterward, "don't sit me out again."
Coach Bruce Boudreau might not be able to avoid it, though, as he juggles 15 NHL-caliber forwards vying for 12 spots. But for one night, at least, Boudreau certainly was glad he put the Czech winger in the lineup.
"I hear him," Boudreau said, laughing. "He's a good player. If the circumstances aren't what they are, he wouldn't be sitting out."
Mike Green scored two goals on an adventurous night for the young defenseman, while Alexander Semin also tallied for the Capitals, who have won four of five games since the end of the Olympic break. Goaltender José Theodore, meanwhile, also turned in a solid effort, stopping 28 shots, including 10 in the third period.
But the hero was Fleischmann, who tied for the team lead in shots on goal with five, and drew two power plays. He was scratched for the only time all season Monday against Dallas.
After a scoreless but tense third period, the Capitals' skilled players poured it on in overtime. Then, more than three minutes into the four-on-four extra session, newcomer Eric Belanger carried the puck into the offensive zone and delivered a deft, no-look crossing pass to Fleischmann, who misfired on the shot, creating a changeup effect that appeared to fool Carolina goaltender Manny Legace (35 saves).
"I didn't hit it all," Fleischmann said. "I just hit it with [the] heel [of the stick] and it just went in."
Although Fleischmann scored the winner, just his second goal in 16 games, Nicklas Backstrom earned the first star of the game with a milestone assist on Green's first goal. Backstrom became only the fourth player in franchise history to post consecutive 80-point seasons, joining Alex Ovechkin, Mike Gartner and Dennis Maruk.
Ovechkin notched his 49th and 50 assists, but his most memorable play had nothing to do with offense. Late in the third period, Tuomo Ruutu crushed Backstrom behind the Capitals' goal. The Capitals' captain did not take kindly to seeing his centerman get hit, so he delivered a big hit on Ruutu, then later on the same shift, sandwiched Brett Carson along the wall.
"He's my bodyguard," Backstrom said of Ovechkin. Of the milestone, Backstrom said, "It's great. But it's just an individual thing. I'm happy I'm here for the team and we win."
It wasn't easy, or a sure thing, though.
In each of the five games since the end of the Olympic break, the Capitals have gotten off to strong starts -- and Wednesday's action-filled opening session was no exception.
Semin ended a four-game goal drought at 2 minutes 24 seconds with a backhanded deke of Legace, who has assumed the No. 1 role in the absence of Cam Ward (back injury). The play unfolded quickly thanks to two crisp breakout passes, the first by John Carlson, the second by Brendan Morrison, who delivered a long bounce pass off the boards to Semin.
Later in the period, Theodore stoned Brandon Sutter on a penalty shot, awarded after Green hauled the center down on a shorthanded breakaway. The Capitals have faced a league high six penalty shots; Theodore has stopped all three he has faced.
Green, however, redeemed himself moments later by scoring on the power play to stretch the Capitals' lead to 2-0. But the Hurricanes answered 18 seconds later on a goal by Patrick Dwyer, cutting the visitors' deficit to 2-1.
In the second period, Green once again atoned for an error with a goal. Deep in the Washington zone, Green sent an errant clearing pass right to Carolina winger Chad Larose, who fed Ruutu for an easy goal over Theodore's blocker.
"He had two goals and one beautiful assist, but the assist was to the wrong team," Boudreau said of Green. "Everything that is passed has to be a hard pass. It has to be -- it's the only way it works."
Green, though, scored his second goal of the night on the power play to restore the Capitals' lead, which, once again, was short lived. With former Hurricane Scott Walker in the penalty box for tripping, Jussi Jokinen beat Theodore over the glove with a fluttering wrist shot from between the circles to send the game into the third knotted at 3.
Theodore made sure it stayed that way until Fleischmann scored. "I thought he was real good," Boudreau said. "Right off the bat, he stops a penalty shots and keeps us in the game."
Capitals notes: Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera sat out as Boudreau continued to rotate the forwards in the bottom half of his lineup. They joined defenseman John Erskine and seldom-used Tyler Sloan and Quintin Laing as healthy scratches.