By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 2011; 12:14 AM
As if they flipped a switch late in the second period Friday night, the Washington Capitals began to pressure and challenge the Vancouver Canucks, seeking any room for a shot or scoring chance. The risks were calculated, checks were finished and briefly the Capitals demonstrated that they're still able to command play in the offensive zone.
But while the frenetic pace proved there is life in the Capitals yet, the shift in attitude came too late against the NHL's top team. Daniel Sedin recorded two goals and Roberto Luongo made 25 saves as Vancouver outplayed Washington for two periods and was able to weather the Capitals' late attempt at a rally for a 4-2 win at Verizon Center, the home team's third consecutive defeat.
For all the spark the Capitals displayed late in the game, though, they looked tentative in the first 40 minutes against the Canucks, who are 15-1-3 in their last 19 outings, even though they scored the first goal of the contest.
"The third period we played great, we played with passion," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Granted it was [Vancouver's] second game in two nights and they were probably a little tired, but you could see the passion in the game. In the first two periods we were playing like not to lose, cautiously trying to do the right things but not creating any opportunities."
Matt Hendricks put Washington on the board 5 minutes 50 seconds into the first, threading a shot under Luongo's left elbow after he snuck behind the defense for a breakaway, but the advantage didn't last long. The Canucks tied the game at 1 shortly after the eight-minute mark when a shot from the point by Alexander Edler made its way through traffic and across the goal line behind Semyon Varlamov, who finished with 31 saves.
Heading into Friday's meeting, the Capitals said they believed the Canucks resembled the team they were a season ago when they raced to the top of the NHL standings. Unfortunately for Washington, it wasn't all hyperbole as Vancouver dominated play despite the tied score.
The Canucks moved fluidly and rarely saw a shift fail to enter the offensive zone or generate a scoring chance while Washington struggled to create or maintain any pressure on Luongo. Vancouver made it 2-1 in the second when a shot by Christian Ehrhoff squeaked through Varlamov's pads and dribbled into the net with the Capitals still grasping for anything on which to build.
"Of course it's frustrating when you don't score as soon as you want, but at the same time you can't just use magic and push a button," said Nicklas Backstrom, who recorded an assist on the Capitals' second goal. "You have to work hard and then the chance is going to come to you. Maybe if we play good game, 60 minutes, it will come, but right now we don't do that."
Late in the middle frame, Washington manufactured sustained offensive pressure but even that momentum was short-lived. With about four minutes left, Vancouver's Jannik Hansen poked the puck off Jason Chimera's stick just as Capitals defenseman Mike Green stepped up to hit the Canucks winger. As Green made impact, the puck drifted past them, giving Sedin a breakaway. He buried a shot past Varlamov's blocker side to give Vancouver a 3-1 edge.
"Jason got poke-checked," Boudreau said of the play, "but Mike was going up the ice when he should have been back - when there's no need for it."
The Capitals took on the third period and the two-goal deficit with verve not seen in the previous periods. They started to cycle and hit harder, an effort to wear down the Canucks, who played the day before and were without defenseman Aaron Rome after he left Friday's contest with a sprained knee ligament. With 9:21 gone in the period, Backstrom fed a cross-ice pass to Marcus Johansson for a one-timer from the right faceoff circle to make it 3-2 and rejuvenate the Capitals and the home crowd.
Washington kept pushing forward, with perhaps its best chance to tie coming on a shot that hit the left post and a subsequent wrap-around attempt by Brooks Laich, but couldn't best Luongo a third time. The Capitals pulled Varlamov for an extra attacker with 1:33 remaining but didn't get a shot on net before Sedin potted his second goal in the empty net.
"It's tough to play that way for 60 minutes because we're so focused on pressure, pressure, pressure, you kind of lose your responsibility defensively trying to get pucks to the net from all over the ice," Hendricks said when asked if the Capitals could carry momentum from the positive play at the end of the game forward. "You really can't do that for 60 minutes, but I think the energy was at a level that should be matched for the entire game."
Capitals note: Right wing Eric Fehr left the contest with 11:01 left in the third period with what appeared to be an injury to his shoulder or collarbone after he and David Steckel collided in the neutral zone. Boudreau said he was uncertain how much time Fehr would miss but that he won't be available Sunday afternoon against the Ottawa Senators.