Capitals 3, Thrashers 2
Alex Ovechkin knocked the puck out of midair, wound his way through the Atlanta Thrashers' defense and calmly deposited the puck in the net last night. The fans at MCI Center went wild, the Capitals had a two-goal third-period lead and the game was all but won.
But wait, not so fast. Ovechkin was ruled to have knocked down the puck with a high stick. No goal. The momentum shift was palpable, and moments later, the Thrashers' Bobby Holik tied the score, sending the game to overtime, and eventually, to a shootout.
Ovechkin was granted a second chance, and this time the goal counted.
The rookie left wing faked Thrashers goalie Mike Dunham to the ice, then slipped the puck under his right leg pad for the only score in penalty shots. At the other end, Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig capped a splendid performance by thwarting former teammate Peter Bondra to clinch Washington's 3-2 victory in front of an announced crowd of 13,758.
"There was a lot of pressure on Peter," said Kolzig, who made 35 saves. "Because he had to score to keep it going."
Washington's other goals came from unlikely sources: center Jakub Klepis, who was making his NHL debut, and defenseman Bryan Muir, who hadn't scored in the NHL since 2002.
Klepis scored midway through the second period to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead, which is the way things remained until midway through the third. Then it got interesting: Ovechkin's goal was discounted and Holik put in his own rebound to tie the game at 2.
"I feel great," Ovechkin said. "The first one, it was a clear goal. Not a high stick. It was beautiful. But I got one more [try] later. I got lucky."
The Capitals' performance contrasted sharply with the team's 8-1 defeat in Philadelphia only 24 hours before. Against Peter Forsberg and the Flyers' all-star lineup, the Capitals struggled in nearly phase of the game.
"It's hard for players to regroup," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "It says a lot for our leaders."
The Capitals' lineup was scrambled for the second consecutive game because of the recent rash of injuries, which again forced the Capitals to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Right wing Matt Bradley, Dainius Zubrus and Petr Sykora were all out with nagging injuries. Klepis was recalled yesterday from the Hershey Bears, Ben Clymer was moved back from defense to forward and center Andrew Cassels was a healthy scratch for the first time.
After a scoreless first period, Bondra tallied an unassisted goal two minutes into the second to put Atlanta ahead 1-0. Muir and Klepis struck 46 seconds apart later in the period to give Washington a 2-1 edge. Muir picked up a pass on his way out of the penalty box and beat Dunham (30 saves).
Bondra, in three games against his former team, has four goals and seven points. The 37-year-old right wing -- the Capitals' franchise leader in goals and points -- wanted to return to Washington last summer but was unable to agree on contract terms.
Capitals Notes: A U.S. District Court judge yesterday granted Washington a temporary restraining order in its lawsuit against agent Mark Gandler and forward Alexander Semin, who has failed to honor his Capitals contract for the past 13 months. The 21-year-old former first-round draft pick has instead played professional hockey in Russia.
The court's decision essentially prohibits Gandler from helping Semin leave his current team, Lada Togliatti, which is having financial problems and can no longer afford to pay his salary, for any team other than the Capitals. Gandler also must submit to a deposition by the Capitals in the next 10 days.
The collective bargaining agreement mandates that players who play outside of North America after October must clear waivers before playing in the NHL that year. But Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner, confirmed yesterday that he is "inclined" to waive that provision if Semin decides to honor his contract with the Capitals and return to Washington.
"My feeling is contracts should always be honored," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday at MCI Center, where he watched the game with Ted Leonsis from the owner's suite. "This is situation where a valid legally binding contract is not being honored and that's not right." . . .
Capitals right wing Chris Clark was fined $2,000 for elbowing Philadelphia defenseman Eric Desjardins in the second period of Thursday night's lopsided loss. Desjardins suffered a concussion as a result of the hit and is out indefinitely. No penalty was assessed on the play.