By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2010; 1:12 AM
NASHVILLE - Throughout the first 30 minutes or so of Saturday night's game, Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth took every television timeout and stoppage in play to remind his teammates that they were still very much within striking distance of the Nashville Predators.
The fact the Capitals had a chance even after the Predators had heavily dominated play and puck possession was largely a tribute to Neuvirth, who put forth one of the best efforts in his 27-game NHL career. He ensured that Washington wouldn't face a large deficit once it finally put pressure on a Nashville squad playing its third game in four nights.
Neuvirth's 37-save performance gave the Capitals the time they needed to turn the tables on Nashville and force overtime for an eventual 3-2 victory 1 minute and 44 seconds into the extra session when Brooks Laich tipped in Alex Ovechkin's shot from the point for a power play goal.
"I was just telling the guys pick it up; it's just 2-0 [and] we're still in the game," said Neuvirth, who boasts a .930 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average while leading the Capitals to a 4-1 start this season.
"I feel unbelievable. I didn't think we were going to get this one after the two periods when we were kind of sloppy," Neuvirth said. "We weren't playing really good [Saturday] but we got the lucky bounce on the first goal and then we were just a different team."
Beginning immediately after the opening faceoff, when Nashville's Steve Sullivan tested Neuvirth on a partial breakaway, the Capitals looked out of sorts. Neuvirth made several key stops and even got a little help from the goal post as Washington took four penalties in the first period, and Nashville (3-1) opened up a shooting gallery in the Capitals' end.
On the Predators' 16th shot, J.P. Dumont fired a wrister from the left faceoff circle that beat Neuvirth, who said he was screened on the play and never saw the puck, which came high on his stick side and gave Nashville a 1-0 lead. Through the first 20 minutes, the Predators outshot the Capitals, 18-7, and outhit them, 9-5.
Nashville's grip on the game continued through the first portion of the second period, as Jordin Tootoo's shot ricocheted off defenseman Brian Fahey's skate and past Neuvirth for a 2-0 edge.
Despite managing to keep their streak on the penalty kill intact and improve to a perfect 21-for-21 - by thwarting all six Nashville power-play opportunities, which came in the first two periods - the considerable time playing a man-down kept the Capitals' primary scorers off the ice for long stretches of time. And even when the teams were at even strength Washington struggled to clear the puck out of the defensive zone.
"We were embarrassed in the first period," said Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, adding that the flurry of penalties put the defense, playing without usual stalwarts Mike Green and Tom Poti, into a panic. "You could see that the defense was giving the puck away in the first half of the game and we weren't getting it out because their pressure was so great. We weren't thinking quick. We were reacting slow and when you react slow to a fast team, you make mistakes."
With a power-play goal to make it 2-1 early in the third, Alexander Semin was the first to crack Nashville rookie goaltender Anders Lindback as the Capitals began to challenge the 6-foot-6 Swede, who was 2-0 through his first two NHL starts. Then, after a series of strong shifts from three of Washington's lines, the combination of Semin, Laich and Tomas Fleischmann capitalized against a Nashville team that started to show signs of fighting the Capitals' growing momentum.
Fleischmann fired the puck toward the net and a sea of legs and sticks, and the shot slid under Lindback's left pad to tie the game with just less than eight minutes remaining in regulation. Washington might have been out-played early, but with the game tied the Capitals knew they could still escape with two points.
"We talked between the periods," Ovechkin said. "We had to just keep pushing them, keep moving our legs and make some hits. I think [Fleischmann's] line did an unbelievable job on the second goal when Flash scored. Everybody was pretty tired - they made some mistakes, and we used that."