By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 12:05 AM
The Washington Capitals appeared to be in firm control heading into the third period against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night at Verizon Center. They held a two-goal lead and had successfully stifled opponents' comeback attempts through the first month of the season.
The next seven minutes changed all that. The Maple Leafs rallied to tie, then take a lead in a span that saw the Capitals allow three goals after only giving up five third-period tallies in the first 11 games of the year combined. And though Washington surged back to force overtime and an eventual 5-4 shootout win over Toronto on shots by Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, the victory didn't feel up to the standard the Capitals are searching for this season.
"We've got to buckle down if we're up 3-1. We can't let them back in the game and we let them back. We kind of gave them three goals and we'd like to have those back, that's for sure," said Jason Chimera, who recorded the Capitals' second goal. "What we didn't do well is get pucks deep and get pucks out . . . but we got back on the horse and started playing better after that."
Semin, who ripped a slap shot past Toronto goaltender Jonas Gustavsson in the shootout for the win, scored his seventh goal of the season on the power play late in the third period to force the extra session. With defenseman Brett Lebda off for cross-checking, the Capitals let go of any highlight-reel aspirations. They simply took every shot that presented itself until Semin was able to scoop up a rebound and fire it into a wide-open net while Gustavsson and Maple Leafs defensemen scrambled on the ice.
Semin played through illness, but there were no negative signs as he tallied the tying goal or as he assisted on Washington's first marker of the evening, by Mike Green.
"When he scored his goal on the power play, there aren't too many guys in the National Hockey League that have hands like that - that can put it there that quickly," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Semin's play. "He was actually sick [Wednesday], and we didn't know if he would be scratched or not until after warmup."
The Capitals won their second straight and improved their record to 5-1 in one-goal games. But Semin's late effort wouldn't have been necessary if Washington had been able to hold Toronto at bay and maintain its own momentum after recording three goals in the second period.
During the first period, the Capitals were unable to cash in on several chances - arguably none better than when Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn swept consecutive shots by Mike Knuble off the goal line less than 30 seconds into the game - and the Maple Leafs took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Nikolai Kulemin into the first intermission.
But the second period showcased Washington's offensive prowess. Green recorded his second goal in as many games as he demonstrated patience in waiting for Gustavsson to drop to his knees before putting the puck in the top corner of the net to tie the game at 1.
Then, after the Capitals escaped a 30-second span when they couldn't seem to get the puck out of their zone, hard work by a combination of the third and fourth lines gave them a lead. Matt Bradley chipped the puck down the ice and behind the net to Boyd Gordon, who in turn made a crisp pass to the crease where Chimera tapped the puck in the net. Less than a minute later, Tomas Fleischmann, who had not recorded a point in the past three contests, deflected John Carlson's shot from the point for a 3-1 Washington lead.
Despite playing in its first set of back-to-back games of the season, Toronto refused to yield. And at the start of the third period the Maple Leafs used traffic in front of goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who made 24 saves, to gain life with a goal by Mike Brown that made it 3-2.
Kris Versteeg tied the game when he put the puck between Neuvirth's legs and Tyler Bozak capitalized on a rebound chance to give Toronto a 4-3 lead and force the Capitals to play catch-up once again.
"I think we stepped back a little too much. They came out hard in the third," Gordon said. "We were kind of on our heels, looked a little sluggish, but we found a way to get back tied up, to get the win.
"We've got to do a little bit better job with the leads, but tonight we got away with it."