Comeback! Caps beat Panthers 5-4 (SO)

Tonight Mike Knuble joined the ranks of officiater-haters everywhere.

If I told you that tonight’s game hinged on Brendan Morrison (no goals since 12/23) and Brooks Laich (no goals since 12/28) scoring, you probably wouldn’t have been optimistic. If I told you that of five back-to-back game pairs, the Caps lost the second game four out of five times, would you have a good outlook for tonight? Well, forget you, dude. The Washington Capitals proved their depth of talent and character in a stunning come-from-behind shootout win over the Florida Panthers.

It could have gone very differently. After last night’s– let’s just call it a hosedown– the Caps could have lost their  momentum and zombie-shambled through the rest of their trip down south. One could argue that Tuesday showed the Caps’ self-detonating: losing their composure and revealing their myriad flaws.  I think instead they showed grit and character in that loss. The Caps left Tampa last night with some scrap of dignity and, bouyed by Matt Bradley, a renewed sense of teamwork. That spirit was paramount in Sunrise.

The first period opened like we all feared it might. The Panthers led 2-0, and the Caps’ offense was absent. Michal Neuvirth’s puck-stopping came up short.  Stop me if you heard this one before.  It seemed like Florida would be able to coast to an easy win over thebestteamevertoplaythesportofhockey. But no. Not tonight. Not under the new reign of Captain Alexander Ovechkin and his merry men. The boys mounted an epic and late-brewing comeback, earning a teeth-clenching shootout finish. On the back of Tomas Fleischman, the Caps fought for this win.

If you can’t tell already, this game is the bizarro version of last night’s game. Let’s break it down.

  • Goalie Michal Neuvirth has been overwhelmed two nights in a row. When Varlamov encountered a spell like this at the season’s beginning, we called it lack of mental toughness. That was because we knew Semyon was a world-class talent. Neuvirth is still in the stage where he must prove himself up to the challenge of NHL hockey, and tonight he failed. Four goals got past Mikey, and Comcast SportsNet taunted the poor kid with several shots of him pouting on the bench.
  • Somewhere someone is saying that Neuvirth was so bad he made Jose Theodore look good. That guy is a jerk, and he can have none of my pub fries. Anyhow, it’s hard to be “Three or more” Theodore when there are already four goals against you coming in. Jose was a brick wall for all of regulation, and he deserves the most credit for ensuring a shootout. I’ve been a loud proponent of the guy, and I’ve defended him when Caps fans got the long knives out a few weeks ago. Tonight I am filled not with vindication, but gratitude. Jose really is a superstar goalie, and we owe this win partially to him. Maybe he should have stopped that glove-side goal during the shootout though. Next time, Jose.
  • Holy moley. New guy Jason Chimera is faaaaaast. The bald dude’s unassisted goal was the best looking play of the whole night, followed immediately by his fight, and then his assist to Brian Pothier’s goal. Hey, what a second– is that? Yes! It is! Jason Chimera has earned the first-ever Russian Machine Never Breaks Gordie Howe Hat Trick Award (“The Gordie!”).
  • At this point it’s almost crass to say that Mike Green had a great game. Canada’s best defenseman almost always has a great night. Greenie splayed a few Panthers out, but his biggest contribution tonight was the tying goal that Nicklas Backstrom deflected in. I don’t know how to praise the guy anymore without nearing idolatry, so I won’t even try. Russian Machine hereby begins a campaign to canonize Mike –nay– Saint Michael Green.
  • Mike Knuble‘s game-winning goal typified the kind of blood-and-guts effort we expect from the hardnosed vet. Thank goodness the eagle-eyed refs were on the ball tonight, or else this might have been missed, and then my blood pressure would have gone through the roof. BAH!
  • Is it just me, or are the big 3 (Backy, Semin, Ovie) kinda crummy on shootout?
  • Brooks Laich and Brendan Morrison escaped from their shared slump, and they picked a heluva time to do it. Two consecutive goals got past Jose during the shootout, but Brooksy and B-Mo stepped up when the game was on the line. Inspired by the team effort, Captain AO is sure to spring for free strip club pizza for the team later.
  • And then there was Flash. Tomas Fleischmann has been effulgent since taking the Center spot a few weeks ago. But in six attempts he’s never scored on shootout.  That ended tonight. Flash found the top shelf and planted the puck in there for the gamewinner (redux). Tomas made this hard-fought win possible, and he’s the reason behind a thousand high fives in the viewing area tonight. He made drinks clink and non-butter spread taste even more delicious.

I hope the smug sports pundits were able to look down their noses far enough to see tonight’s game. If you can’t find passion and devotion in these athletes worthy of remark, you don’t know sport.