By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2010; D01
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Washington Capitals set a franchise record for points in a season Thursday night, but no one in the visitors' dressing room at RBC Center was much in the mood to celebrate.
Carolina coughed up a two-goal lead, but Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose each scored in the shootout, allowing the Hurricanes to escape with a 3-2 shootout victory and spoil what could have been a joyous night for the Capitals.
Despite the loss, by reaching overtime, the Capitals earned a point in the standings and reached 109 for the season -- one more than the 108 they earned last season. The defeat also ensured they'll have to wait to clinch the franchise's first Eastern Conference regular season title.
"We lost the game," Coach Bruce Boudreau said somberly. "No one is going to celebrate a loss."
The defeat also put a damper on what should have been a big night for rookie John Carlson, who scored his first NHL goal in the third period to knot the score at 2.
With three Hurricanes caught deep in the Washington zone, Carlson, 20, jumped into the rush, cut into the slot, called for a pass from veteran Jason Chimera and snapped a shot between Manny Legace's pads. Asked if rookies are allowed to call for passes, Boudreau said: "That's what's going to make him a superstar. He plays way older than his age."
Carlson, who has skated in 18 games, added: "I'm excited about the goal, obviously. I wasn't really open. But when you see an opportunity like that. They don't come around too often. If I had put it in the corner, I would have been in trouble."
If there was one positive the Capitals could take from the game it was the performance of Semyon Varlamov, who allowed 20 goals in his previous five starts.
The rookie goalie surrendered two goals on the first seven shots he faced -- Boudreau said both were deflected in front -- but he rallied in the final 45 minutes, stopping 18 shots. His biggest save came in overtime, when he slammed shut his pads on a break-in for Hurricanes star Eric Staal.
"He played great," Boudreau said of Varlamov, who made 29 saves. "If I were him, I would feel good about myself."
Varlamov's only mistake came in the shootout. With the Capitals ahead 1-0 on a goal by Nicklas Backstrom, Varlamov stopped Sergei Samsonov and Jussi Jokinen. But with the chance to close out a win, he allowed Whitney's shot to dribble between his pads. Then LaRose, who had never taken a shot in a shootout, provided the decisive score.
"It's unfortunate the one snuck in [because] that was the difference in the game," Boudreau said.
Had the Capitals won, they would have clinched the Eastern Conference because New Jersey lost to the New York Rangers, 4-3, in shootout.
Washington had no one to blame for the blown opportunity but itself. Because if they were truly determined to make history, they had a funny way of showing it early.
Only 1 minute 29 seconds into the first period, Alexander Semin took an interference penalty. And only 42 seconds after that, rookie defenseman Jamie McBain wound up and unleashed a shot from the point that sailed through traffic and beat Varlamov, who did not appear to be square to the shot.
About seven minutes later, Hurricanes stretched their lead when another rookie defenseman, Bryan Rodney scored his first NHL goal. Rodney pinched, took a pass from Jussi Jokinen and snapped a shot past Varlamov. Each of the Hurricanes' first two goals beat Varlamov's blocker.
"The first 10 minutes we were leaving our goalie out to dry," Boudreau said.
Boudreau's team, which had defeated Pittsburgh in a shootout Wednesday night and didn't arrive in Raleigh until the wee hours Thursday, shook off its slow start in the second period and began putting pressure on Legacy (41 saves).
Semin cut the Carolina lead in half at 1:43, rifling his own rebound between Legace's pads. The goaltenders, though, dominated the final 18 minutes of the middle period.
"We picked it up pretty good," said Boudreau, whose Capitals have gone to overtime or the shootout six times in the past nine games. "But at the same time, you can't come from behind and win every night."
Capitals notes: Top-six defensemen Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz sat out as Boudreau continues to rest key players for the postseason. . . .
Brooks Laich did not travel with the team after suffering a face injury in practice Tuesday. He's scheduled to skate Friday, but Boudreau conceded that the second-line winger might not play until next week. . . .
Winger Scott Walker skated Thursday morning but remains a week away from returning to the lineup, Boudreau said. . . .
Center Boyd Gordon remains in Hershey, Pa., with the Bears to receive treatment on his back.