By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2010; 12:22 AM
OTTAWA - The Washington Capitals needed a win, any kind of win. It didn't matter so much how they got the result, just that they did it soon to regain the confidence they once had.
With a combination of ugly goals and desperate playmaking on a series of third-period penalty kills, the Capitals claimed a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night to snap their eight-game losing streak. It marked the first win by a Washington professional sports team since Dec. 3. Afterward, the Capitals' relief and joy manifested in the form of yelling and friendly jokes were a stark contrast to the somber postgame scenes that had become the norm this month.
"It's unbelievable. It's like my second-best game ever after the ones where I won the Calder Cup," said goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who finished with 24 saves. "This is the second-best feeling ever; it's such a relief. At the end it was intense, I was just going minute by minute until the end and the guys were paying the price, blocking shots, because we just had to win."
The victory - Washington's first since a 4-1 win over St. Louis on Dec. 1 - also propelled the Capitals back to the top of the Southeast Division standings with 42 points, though Atlanta and Tampa Bay have one and three games in hand, respectively.
It was a resurgence led at key times by role players, as Mathieu Perreault posted two goals and Eric Fehr added another in the second period to give Washington its first three-goal period in 10 games. More important, the goals allowed Washington to claw its way out of a two-goal deficit.
As they filled the net, the Capitals finished checks with a little more oomph, defended their territory around the net with more vigor and repeatedly beat the Senators to loose pucks. But the contest didn't start out that way.
The Senators took a 2-0 lead in the first 14 minutes of the contest with goals by Ryan Shannon and Chris Kelly. Washington let a power play expire without a shot. But nothing in the first period epitomized the Capitals' recent woes quite like a one-timer by Fehr. The puck crossed the goal line behind Ottawa goaltender Brian Elliott - who entered the contest a perfect 4-0-0 against Washington in his career - but it wasn't until after time had expired in the period, leaving Washington to ponder a two-goal deficit before the start of the second.
Rather than dwell on their misfortune, the Capitals created and cashed in on the ugly, second-chance opportunities from close around the net that they needed so often during the losing streak. Thirty-four seconds into the second period, Perreault knocked home a rebound to instantly put Washington into the game.
"I felt that we were getting pucks to the net and guys were crashing and this is the way we would most likely get our goals, just a bang-bang play around the crease," Perreault said. "That's what we need to do more of."
Less than a minute later, Fehr snapped a personal 12-game goal scoring drought when he tucked the puck in around the right post to tie the score at 2. After the tying goal, Alex Ovechkin, who fed the puck to Fehr for the tally, let out a "Woo!" that was audible to the rafters of Scotiabank Place. Finally, the Capitals had momentum working in their favor.
"I think if you just look at the bench when we score a goal recently - three goals is a massive output for this team in the last 10 games - when you look at the bench and we're jumping up so high for one goal you just know that they wanted it," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That they wanted to win so badly."
The Capitals dominated play and earned consecutive power plays. They cashed in on the second with 6 minutes 55 seconds gone in the period, their first goal on the man-advantage in four games. It was Perreault, his second of the game coming on a rebound after an initial attempt by Fehr and with Andrew Gordon wreaking havoc in the crease.
Ovechkin nearly added a fourth when he redirected the puck past Elliott near the midway point, but it was overruled when video review determined he had kicked it in. Regardless, the second period gave the Capitals something to build on.
"I think we started off pretty good in the second period," Nicklas Backstrom said. "With more pressure on their net and we finally found those dirty goals - those are the goals you have to score to win this kind of game. We finally did that."
The penalty killers helped the Capitals carry their one-goal edge. Washington didn't allow the Senators to take a shot on net - or hardly get set up - after a hooking penalty against Perreault with little less than 13 minutes left. When John Carlson went off for high-sticking with more than seven minutes remaining, the Capitals gave up just one shot on net.
Washington had to go back on the penalty once again when Jason Chimera was called for holding with less than three minutes left. It was just the opportunity the Capitals didn't need to give the Senators, but Washington would thwart the final short-handed session that included three crucial clearing plays by Brooks Laich.