By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011; 2:24 AM
ANAHEIM, Calif. - For a night, the Washington Capitals didn't want for goals. Facing an Anaheim Ducks squad that had scored at least three goals in each of its past four contests, the Capitals quickly accepted their roles as Western gunslingers in an old-fashioned, high-scoring shootout where defense was optional and it was an unwelcome night to be a goaltender.
All told, 11 players scored goals and 20 recorded points Wednesday night at Honda Center. But Alexander Semin's tally with 1 minute 47 seconds to go proved decisive in a 7-6 Capitals victory that snapped a three game losing streak. The goal was Semin's third of the night, marking his fourth hat trick of the season and a resounding return for the winger, who entered the game on a 17-game goal-scoring drought that stretched back to Nov. 28.
The contest marked the first time Washington posted seven goals since an Oct. 30 win in Calgary, the most combined goals scored in a Capitals' game this season and only the fourth time they tallied five or more goals over the last 35 games. The up-and-down pace came at the expense of the team defense that had been the Capitals' recent hallmark, as they allowed six goals for the first time since a 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Dec. 12.
After watching his team fight back from four separate deficits in the contest, Coach Bruce Boudreau was pleased to see an offensive spark from many of the team's secondary scorers.
"You could see [Semin's] eyes light up after he scored," Boudreau said. "That's what we need -- the secondary scoring. You get the goal from [David] Steckel's line or two goals, it's what makes our team go. When you rely on Nicky [Backstrom] and Alex [Ovechkin] to score every goal, it's not that difficult to shut one line down, but when you get another line going [we do well]. We've given up 13 goals in the last three games, now we've got to get back to stopping the puck again."
The unenviable position to be in on this night was in goal. Semyon Varlamov started the contest but was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots in the first period. Michal Neuvirth finished the game to earn the victory with nine saves. For Anaheim, Curtis McElhinney made 24 saves in his 13th start of the season after the Ducks put all-star Jonas Hiller on injured reserve earlier in the day. Knowing that they would face McElhinney, the Capitals focused on getting as many pucks on net in an attempt to rattle Anaheim's usual backup.
It didn't take long to realize that just about any shot might find its way across the goal line in the second and final regular season meeting between the two teams. Just 4:10 into the first period, the puck glanced off Brooks Laich's skate and popped out to the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf, who promptly put the Ducks up 1-0.
The Capitals responded with goals by Alex Ovechkin and Laich to take a 2-1 lead with just less than four minutes remaining in the period, but it wouldn't be enough to stave off the Ducks.
Anaheim recorded a pair of goals as a result of deflections 1:24 apart from likely future hall-of-famer Teemu Selanne and defenseman Toni Lydman to give the Ducks a 3-2 advantage heading into the first intermission.
"It could have been easy to quit. We got down [1-0], then we went down 4-2 and just kind of rallied and thought it was going to be one of those nights," Mike Knuble said. "So you just keep shooting the puck. It's one of those games. Could it be one to kind of get us out of the spell we're in? Maybe. As a group we gave up six, but it felt really good to score seven and actually win a game the old way that we used to win."
Neuvirth entered the game at the start of the second period, but things weren't about to get less dramatic.
On Washington's first power play at the start of the second, Anaheim's Corey Perry scored on a shorthanded breakaway to make it 4-2. The Capitals answered with a pair of goals of their own -- by Steckel and Semin's first -- in a little more than a minute to tie the game at 4. A puck directed off of Backstrom's stick not long after put Anaheim back in front.
Washington endured a scary moment 3 1/2 minutes later when Ducks defenseman Andy Sutton sent Matt Hendricks, whose back was turned, into the boards. Hendricks hit headfirst and fell to the ice, prompting defenseman John Erskine to challenge Sutton to fight. Sutton was given a two-minute penalty for boarding on the hit and Hendricks would return to the ice at the start of the third period.
Boudreau said he believed Erskine's defense of Hendricks was a galvanizing moment for the Capitals, who would benefit from goals by Knuble and two more from Semin to clinch the victory.
"We persevered tonight," Hendricks said. "That's something that we really haven't been able to do in awhile. To come back from behind and win hockey games and we were able to do it tonight on the road. And a lot of thanks to Ersk too for sticking up for me."