By Greg Schimmel
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, November 29, 2010; 12:22 AM
If the Washington Capitals had been able to break through for one more goal in the first period against Carolina on Sunday, they likely wouldn't have come close to needing the one they scored in a shootout.
The Caps scored twice in a dominant first period, but they failed to bury the plucky Hurricanes early on, and it cost them a regulation victory.
Hurricanes center Eric Staal wristed a shot past Semyon Varlamov after a deflection in front of the net with 2.2 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime, and when Alex Ovechkin scored the only goal on either side during the shootout, the Caps gained only one point on their Southeast Division rivals with a 3-2 win at Verizon Center.
"It's a big win for us," Ovechkin said. "It's pretty bad they scored in the last two seconds but it is what it is."
The Caps dominated play early, outshooting Carolina 17-7 in the first period and getting most of the best scoring chances.
Tomas Fleischmann - back in the lineup after sitting out Friday night vs. Tampa Bay as a healthy scratch - couldn't put away a bouncing puck in front of the net in the game's opening minute. Ovechkin's open shot from the slot after a beautiful pass from Alexander Semin - back on the top line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom - went well wide a few minutes in.
Center Marcus Johansson's third goal of the season exactly seven minutes into the game and Semin's 18th of the year 18:49 into the period built the early 2-0 lead, but the Caps felt like they should have had more.
Johansson scored after Eric Fehr stole the the puck from Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen in the corner and passed to an open Johansson in front of the net, and Semin's goal came on a two-on-one with Ovechkin.
"It's always difficult to think that you're going to always dominate every period, and I knew that they would regroup and come back in the first 10 minutes of the second period," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I thought the first period we were excellent, we just needed that next goal, I think, to break their will."
The Caps clearly didn't come out with the same urgency in the second period, and Hurricanes winger Erik Cole cut the lead to one goal 50 seconds after the end of the first intermission.
Staal skated behind the net with the puck and found Cole in front for a surprisingly easy score.
Washington didn't generate nearly as many chances in the uneventful period, and did not go on the power play in either of the first two.
The Caps' lethargy continued into the third period, but they seemingly had played with enough grit to escape with a 2-1 regulation win.
Staal's goal with an extra Carolina attacker on the ice ended that notion, when a shot from the top of the offensive zone was knocked down in front of Varlamov, and the Capitals goalie couldn't recover in time to deny Staal on the rebound.
"We didn't want that goal there at the end. We wanted to win it in regulation," defenseman John Carlson said. "But to stay composed and win it in overtime shows a little bit of our character."
Varlamov made 26 saves in his third straight start and fifth appearance of the season - including a save on Carolina defenseman Ian White from close range during overtime - and he saved Tuomo Ruutu's attempt to end the shootout after Carolina's first two shooters, Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen, also were denied.
The Capitals drew just one Carolina penalty, though there were some questionable non-calls, and the Caps killed all three of their penalties successfully. Carolina had one power-play opportunity in each period of regulation.
Defenseman Mike Green, back in the lineup after missing the Caps' previous two games with an undisclosed injury, left the game during overtime and was helped into the locker room after he took a slap shot to his knee.
Boudreau said Green should be all right.
"You ever blocked a shot? They friggin' hurt," Boudreau said. "He's going to be fine, but they hurt."