By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; D03
Brooks Laich experienced the full range of emotions in the final six minutes of Monday's game against the Boston Bruins. One moment, he was seated in the penalty box after taking an offensive zone penalty in a tied game, hoping his teammates would kill it off and give him another chance.
The next, the winger was burying the puck behind goalie Tuukka Rask to lift the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 overtime victory at Verizon Center.
"When he took [the penalty] all he wanted was another chance," said Coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team went to extra time for the 10th time in the past 20 games. "You could see when he came out of the penalty box, he was hungry as all get out. That's why I threw him in front. I knew he would pay the extra price to get the goal."
And boy did he almost pay a price. With Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman in the penalty box for high sticking, Laich parked himself in front of the net and was hit by an errant Alexander Semin shot on the inside of his thigh. Forty-four seconds into overtime, Laich snapped the puck past Rask, the NHL's leader in goals against average and save percentage, before he could adjust.
"A couple of inches to the left, and I would have been in a world of hurt," joked Laich, who was awarded the hard hat. "It was pretty close. I don't know where [Semin] was shooting that one."
The win was the Capitals' third in a row overall and third this season over Boston, their potential first-round opponent.
"We play them [again] Sunday and we'll have pretty good idea of what they're trying to do," Boudreau said.
Alex Ovechkin didn't break out of his goal funk, but the two-time MVP put forth a strong effort. He finished with a game-high six shots on goal and, with a pair of primary assists, pulled him within two points of Vancouver's Henrik Sedin in the race for the Art Ross Trophy. It was, however, 15th time in the past 18 games that Ovechkin was held without a goal.
"He competed," Boudreau said. "He got involved. He wasn't afraid to hit today. Ever since that suspension, I think it has been on his mind."
Ovechkin, who received the first star, said he was inspired by a private chat with Boudreau before the game.
"I talked to Bruce about it, about what I have to do better," Ovechkin said. "I didn't skate well last couple games. Today, I play better."
José Theodore had another strong performance, stopping 28 shots, including all 12 he faced in the third period and a highlight reel stacked pad stop on Michael Ryder on the first.
"He was real good," Boudreau said of his goalie, who improved to 19-0-3 since mid January.
Nicklas Backstrom got the Capitals a 1-0 lead with a controversial goal at the 7-minute 36-second mark of the first period. Ovechkin made a pass through three Bruins (just as he got leveled by hulking defenseman Zdeno Chara) to Backstrom, whose shot rolled slowly, on its edge, along the goal line before being swept off it by Wideman.
"I didn't think it was in," Backstrom said. "But they call it a goal [so] I guess it was a goal."
Ovechkin said he knew Chara was going to put a hurt on him.
"I saw Chara right way and I say, 'Oh Jesus,' " Ovechkin said. "He hit me pretty hard."
About two minutes later, Theodore robbed Ryder with a stacked pad save, the turned away his former Montreal Canadiens teammate away empty handed with a second pad save on the rebound.
"After I made the save, he looked at me," Theodore said. "It was like street hockey, old school. Sometimes when you're desperate you do those moves."
Despite Theodore's heroics, Wideman managed to send the game into the second period knotted, 1-1. With 1.6 seconds remaining in the opening period, the defenseman beat Theodore with a slap shot, the Bruins' sixth straight shot.
The teams traded goals again in the second period. Patrice Bergeron put the Bruins ahead 2-1 at 7:55, deking Theodore after all five Capitals were beaten by a nifty three-pass sequence that began deep in the Bruins' zone.
Mike Knuble answered with 28.8 seconds remaining, redirecting an Ovechkin rebound past Rask as he fought off Chara at the top of the crease. The goal, which was also reviewed, was Knuble's second in the past 15 games and sent the game into the third period tied 2-2.
"It was his goal," Ovechkin conceded. "Hit his skate probably."
Boudreau had said he would consider resting some of his star players in the final games and, one night after clinching the Presidents' Trophy, the coach scratched Mike Green, the Capitals' highest minute player.
Boudreau wouldn't commit to resting other stars in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, but he wouldn't rule it out, either.
Capitals notes: Scott Walker returned from a six-game layoff because of a knee injury and concussion and skated on the third line with Eric Belanger and Eric Fehr. John Carlson (upper body), Brendan Morrison (groin muscle) and Boyd Gordon (sore back) participated in the morning skate but did not suit up.