By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 29, 2010; D01
Alex Ovechkin scored his 46th goal to temporarily retake the NHL lead, and later registered an assist to reach the 100-point plateau for the fourth time in his five seasons.
The rest of the Washington Capitals' effort Sunday afternoon, though, was mostly forgettable for the league's top team. The Calgary Flames, desperate to remain in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference, scored four times in the first period, and thanks to a stellar effort from goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, held on for a 5-3 victory at Verizon Center.
Despite the uninspired loss, some four hours later Washington was given a reason to celebrate: The Philadelphia Flyers' 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils handed the Capitals the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
It was the best news the Capitals got on a day that began with the Flames dominating them from the opening faceoff. Ovechkin's goal, the two-time MVP's fourth in his past 14 games, pulled Washington within three early in the second period. But the early deficit, created by a lethargic start and shaky goaltending, proved too much to overcome.
"We didn't have any energy; it looked like we were skating in quicksand," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Their sense of urgency was so tremendous. They got called out by their GM [Darryl Sutter] and they had gotten embarrassed [5-0] in Boston [Saturday] so we knew they were going to come out [strong]. We didn't match their push, and for the first time in a long time, it looked like [José Theodore] was struggling."
Theodore, who had won seven straight starts while posting a 1.95 goals against average and a .935 save percentage during that span, was pulled after yielding three goals on 10 shots, including two that bounced off him before entering the net. Semyon Varlamov also yielded a pair of soft goals.
"I just thought he was fighting the puck every shot," Boudreau said of Theodore. "I just didn't think he had it today. But he'll be back in there on Tuesday. We just weren't ready to play in the first period."
The Capitals were ushered off the ice by a smattering of boos from the capacity crowd -- a gesture that seemed to irk Boudreau almost as much as his team's effort.
"We had lost four [in regulation] out of 35 at home," he said. "Give the guys a break. I could see if we were doing this on a regular basis. It's their right. But the good ones were right behind us all the way."
The first period was easily among the Capitals' worst 20-minute stretches of the season. The Flames, who arrived in Washington six points out of a playoff spot with seven games remaining, out-hustled their hosts, outshot them 12-4, and outscored them 4-0.
"We shot ourselves in the foot in the first period," defenseman Mike Green said.
Ovechkin added: "They're a desperate team that needs points for the playoffs. We knew they'd come at us hard, and we were not ready."
Ales Kotalik put Calgary ahead 1-0 at 2:33 after the Flames winger gathered a fumbled rebound and banked it into the net off Theodore's pads. Six minutes later, Calgary was on the power play when Ian White flicked a shot from a tight angle off a sprawled Theodore.
"It was one of the nights where things weren't going well," Theodore said. "When you're really sharp, maybe you freeze the puck [on the first two goals]. I didn't start the way I wanted to."
The Flames, however, were just getting going.
About two minutes after White's goal, Jay Bouwmeester outraced David Steckel to the net and redirected a crossing pass from Rene Bourque (goal, two assists) over Theodore. The goal was Bouwmeester's first in 57 games.
Varlamov didn't fare much better. On the second shot after the goaltending change, Niklas Hagman extended the Calgary lead to 4-0 at 19:40 with a soft backhander from the top of the circle. When Varlamov made a routine stop moments later, the capacity crowd offered up a mock cheer.
After Ovechkin made it 4-1 3:49 into the second, Bourque fired a spin-o-rama shot that hit Varlamov's stick before popping up in the air and dropping into the net.
"When they made it 5-1, that's was a tough one," Boudreau said of Bourque's goal. "I still thought if we made it 4-2 before the end of the period . . . that was a tough mountain to climb."
Goals by Steckel and Mathieu Perreault cut the Capitals' deficit to 5-3. But Kiprusoff stopped 19 of the 20 shots he faced in the third period, including a highlight pad stop on Eric Belanger with about seven minutes remaining to make sure the Capitals got no closer.
"Those are the ones that have to go in, if you want to mount a comeback," Boudreau said. "We didn't have that step. We were on four cylinders instead of eight."
Capitals notes: Perreault was recalled on an emergency basis and scored his third NHL goal. He replaced veteran Brendan Morrison, who is sidelined with a lower body "tweak". . . .
Brooks Laich (face), Shaone Morrisonn (wisdom teeth), Boyd Gordon (back) and Scott Walker (knee) were also sidelined. Tyler Sloan was a healthy scratch.