By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010; D01
COLUMBUS, OHIO -- The Washington Capitals overwhelmed the Columbus Blue Jackets in the early going Saturday night, scoring three times in the opening 14 minutes. But they needed an equally impressive effort in the clutch from goaltender José Theodore to hang on for a record-breaking 3-2 victory at Nationwide Arena.
The win was No. 51 for the Capitals, one more than their previous record set in 1985-86 and then matched last season. It was also road win No. 23, which set another record.
"It's nice to set records," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It gives us a goal to shoot for next year. But it's more significant that Theo had a good game and that, for the most part, we were fairly good defensively."
In his previous two games, Theodore surrendered eight goals on 41 shots. Against the Blue Jackets, he was perhaps the Capitals' best player, stopping 34 shots, including all 14 he faced in the second period as his teammates were outshot by a two-to-one margin.
"I wanted a lot of scoring chances so I could get back to feeling the puck and making big saves," Theodore said. "I don't feel that my game was that way off."
Alexander Semin, Tomas Fleischmann and Mike Green supplied the offense. But it was Theodore who earned the No. 1 star.
The veteran goalie spoke to reporters as a dance beat thumped in a celebratory visitors' dressing room.
"We have one more [regular season goal] to achieve and then it's going to be the playoffs," Theodore said with a smile, referring to the Presidents' Trophy, awarded to the team with the best regular season record. They can clinch it with a San Jose loss (in regulation or overtime) on Sunday.
"That would be something new for this organization and for our guys," said Alex Ovechkin, who did not register a point. "But it's not a big deal. We want to win the big trophy."
Before the Capitals could toast their accomplishment Saturday, they had to sweat out a late comeback bid by Rick Nash and the Blue Jackets.
Nash set up Antoine Vermette for a second time with 7 minutes 43 seconds remaining to cut the Capitals' lead to 3-2. But the 24th-place Blue Jackets mustered only two more shots, and the Capitals held on for their second straight win.
"It's always the case," Boudreau said when asked if he thought his team let up after taking a 3-0 lead. You're thinking it's going to be 9-0, you think you're going to have a walk in the park and very rarely does it happen."
Green capped the three-goal outburst in the first period with his 19th goal of the season. It turned out to be the game-winner and it was his 74th point, a new career high.
"He was fabulous," Boudreau said. "Not just scoring the wining goal. Every time on he was a force defensively. He's been that way for a while."
Semin, meantime, matched his career high for goals with No. 38. Ovechkin, however, had a night to forget. The two-time MVP put only two shots on net, while four attempts sailed wide of the Columbus goal and four others were blocked. He was also a minus-2 on the night.
"He looked a little off tonight," Boudreau said. "He needs to work a little harder defensively, and that will make his offense go better."
Ovechkin added: "It's coming, but I don't when. Hopefully in the playoffs."
Ovechkin has four goals in his past 17 games and is running out of time to catch up to Vancouver's Henrik Sedin (he's three behind) in the scoring race and Sidney Crosby (he's one back) for tops in goals.
"It's a little pressure," Ovechkin conceded when reminded only four games remain.
Despite Ovechkin's struggles, the Capitals managed to seize control with a strong first-period effort.
Theodore stopped Nash from point-blank range at 5:15 of the first period, and about 40 seconds later, Semin finished off a nifty give-and-go with Brooks Laich, ripping a slap shot past Mathieu Garon.
About three minutes after Semin's strike, Jason Chimera, in his first return to Columbus since the Dec. 28 trade that brought him to Washington, was hauled down on a breakaway and plowed into Garon, shaking up the Blue Jackets netminder. Garon later left the game with blurred vision.
Fleischmann made it 2-0 at 10:42 and Green stretched the lead to 3-0 by ripping a slap shot past Steve Mason.
The Capitals were outshot 14-7 in the second period, but Theodore made sure the Blue Jackets did not mount a comeback. The veteran's best save came on a backhander from Derick Brassard that he turned away with a kick save.
"Theo bounced back great," Ovechkin said. "He made a lot of unbelievable saves."
Capitals notes: Chimera received a warm round of applause when announced as a Capitals starter. . . .
Boudreau said he hopes Scott Walker (knee) can suit up Monday and that John Carlson (upper body) and Boyd Gordon (back) will be able to return Monday or Tuesday. . . .
Brendan Morrison (groin) is expected to return for the final two games, Boudreau said.