Capitals' four-game winning streak ends in controversy with 2-1 loss to Stars

Get the inside scoop as HBO's reality series, 24/7, takes to the ice to follow the Penguins and Capitals on their road to the NHL Winter Classic. 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic premieres Wed., Dec. 15 at 10pm ET/PT on HBO.
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010; 1:09 AM

DALLAS - Alex Ovechkin emerged from a pile of bodies around the Dallas Stars' net with his arms held above his head and skated toward a group of his celebrating teammates with 7.6 seconds remaining Thursday at American Airlines Center.

What Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals didn't see when their captain defenseman John Carlson appeared to knock the puck past Dallas goaltender Andrew Raycroft to force overtime: A referee emphatically signaling that the goal would not count. Ovechkin had been ruled in the crease on the play, when Stars defenseman Karlis Skrastins collided with Raycroft.

Dallas held on for a 2-1 win to snap the Capitals' four-game winning streak, led by Raycroft's 37-save outing.

"If you look at the friggin' call, Ovie doesn't touch the guy," said Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, who was assessed a team penalty for abuse of officials following the cancellation of the would-be tying goal. "Their guy slides into the goalie and takes him out of the play and the one ref is telling me Ovie is in the paint. I want to know when that rule changed where you can't be in the paint if you don't touch anybody, you don't interfere with anybody. . . . You want to know why I voted for a coach's challenge? There it is. It cost us two points."

It was a frustrating game for the Capitals, who came out jumping against the Stars despite playing in their second of back-to-back road contests against unfamiliar Western Conference opponents. Despite frequent opportunities in the first period against Raycroft, who drifted out of the crease and gave up rebounds in prime shooting lanes early on, the Capitals couldn't get all of their shots on net or follow up with the second-chance opportunities.

In the opposite end, Michal Neuvirth, who finished with 19 saves in his first start since Nov. 20 against Philadelphia, looked sharp as well. Although Dallas didn't pepper him with the volume of attempts that Washington fired in the other direction, Neuvirth weathered quality scoring chances and kept rebounds to a minimum as his teammates outshot the Stars 14-7 in the first.

"We had some good opportunities that didn't hit the net," Matt Hendricks said. "I think there was traffic, I think there were rebounds it was just one of those nights, just couldn't get a stick on it. Give Raycroft credit, he played a good game."

Those shots that sailed wide would loom large in the second period, when the Capitals were called for four minor penalties in the span of 12 minutes 12 seconds, giving Dallas more than seven minutes on the power play.

Washington's penalty kill, which entered the game successful on 15 of its last 16 tries, looked poised as it withstood the first penalty - a roughing call on Ovechkin at the conclusion of the first when he defended Marcus Johansson, who had been hit in open ice by Dallas forward Adam Burish. Ensuing calls against Mike Knuble for hooking, Jeff Shultz for interference and the recently acquired Scott Hannan for interference would zap the unit of its aggressiveness and rob Washington of its control over the contest.

"I think guys lost momentum maybe a little bit," Hendricks said. "Penalty-killing over and over, a number of guys have to sit on the bench during that time [and] just kind of lose that feel, especially back to back."

Said Ovechkin: "It's pretty tough [to sit on the bench during the penalty kill], but our guys do a great job . . . I think we have in the second period too many penalty kills, but again, it was only one side of whistle."

Ovechkin extended his goal-scoring drought to nine games, matching a career long set in the 2008-09 season.

On the Stars' fourth power play of the period, Brad Richards's wrist shot popped straight back out into the slot, where a soft spot in coverage had developed in front of the net. That allowed Mike Ribeiro to fire the rebound past Neuvirth, as he scrambled to cover the open side of the net, with 13:29 gone in the second.

The multiple penalties "wears a lot. It takes a team that I think is outplaying [the Stars] fairly good at the point and takes them out of the game because they have to play defense for six or eight minutes," Boudreau said. "Of course it's going to switch momentum very quickly."

The Capitals would tie the game at 1 in the third on a power play of their own as Mike Green fed the puck to Knuble in the left faceoff circle, but the reprieve was short-lived. Twenty seconds after Knuble's tying marker, Stars forward Brandon Segal let go of a wrister that beat Neuvirth in top left-hand corner of the net for the game-winning goal.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company