Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill
[Ed note: This post is by the Carroll County Times' Brandon Oland, Ian's very own flesh and blood. Since he's accustomed to staying up until 4am, we figured he could fill in for us tonight. Take it away, Brandon.]
Doubts were creeping in. Could the Washington Capitals score enough goals to keep up with Anaheim’s freakishly talented top line? Could the Caps steal a pivotal road win against one of the NHL’s top teams? Could the underperforming Alexander Semin regain his finishing touch?
Yes, yes and yes.
Semin scored three goals, including the game-tying and game-winning tallies to lift the Capitals to a thrilling 7-6 victory in one of the most captivating back-and-forth battles in recent team history. That is, unless you are a fan of defense.
Semin notched his fourth hat trick of the season and seventh of his career. He also finished with a tidy plus four, officially breaking out of the longest goal-scoring slump of his career (17 games) in explosive fashion.
The goals came fast and furious in this defense-purely-optional imitation of the NHL All-Star game. Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf got the scoring started with a way-too-easy power play tally set up by a brutal interference penalty on Tyler Sloan. Getzlaf’s goal came with 15:50 to go in the first. Alexander Ovechkin responded six minutes later on a breakaway sparked by a tremendous outlet pass by Nicklas Backstrom. Brooks Laich gave the Caps a brief 2-1 lead with 3:53 left in the first frame, capitalizing on a horrible turnover by Teemu Selanne. After Saku Koivu worked past two waving Capitals defenders, Selanne redeemed himself with a nifty redirect just a few minutes after his lazy pass to tie the contest up. Toni Lydman gave the Ducks a 3-2 lead with 30.7 seconds left in the first, thereby ensuring Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t let Semyon Varlamov see the ice in the second.
The Capitals power play continued its recent struggles in the second period. Corey Perry scored on a breakaway short-handed goal with 13:39 to go in the second to put the Ducks up by two. The goal was set up, in part, because Ovechkin got caught being too aggressive from his point position. But, the Capitals’ blue-collar checkers would come to the rescue. David Steckel scored in front after a nifty centering feed from Boyd Gordon, making it a one goal game. The Caps would then tie it at four on Semin’s first goal since Nov. 28. He needed a 3-on-1 break to make it happen with just less than 10 minutes to go in the second period. Alas, the Ducks took yet another lead just four minutes later. Lubomir Visnovsky, who probably deserves some Norris Trophy consideration, scored on a wacky deflection to give the Ducks a 5-4 lead with 6:42 left. At this point, I contemplated offering my resignation to Ian, who owes me a Chipotle burrito for all this effort.
But after drinking some Sun Drop (it’s a poor man’s Mountain Dew!), I soldiered on.
After killing a penalty, the Capitals scored quickly to tie the score one minute into the third. Mike Knuble, doing his best Ovi imitation, deked his way past Anaheim goalie Curtis McElhinney (who was absolutely terrible) on a breakaway to make it 5-5. After the Capitals seemed to have momentum, Ryan scored in transition during a wacky series that started with the goal behind McElhinney becoming dislodged. The officials allowed play to continue on, leading to the Anaheim goal with 14:05 to go. The Capitals bench wanted an offsides call on the play. They didn’t get it. No matter. The Capitals tied it AGAIN on Semin’s second goal of the night, a backhand swat from close range. Credit Scott Hannan for pinching up and creating the opportunity. Semin’s game winner came with just fewer than two minutes to go on a goal that McElhinney absolutely should have stopped. The Ducks desperately need to figure out what is wrong with starting goalie Jonas Hiller (fatigue) because they can’t win a Stanley Cup with McElhinney back there. Yuck. Caps beat Ducks, 7-6.
- Forget about all the goals. The night’s most entertaining moment came when the Comcast Sportsnet cameras panned to the stands and spotted four rubes wearing presidential masks cheering on the Capitals. The Ronald Reagan mask was particularly hilarious for reasons I can’t fully explain.
- Huge props to John Erskine for immediately sticking up for Matt Hendricks following a blind-side blow near the boards by Andy Sutton. Erskine dropped the gloves and bloodied Sutton with a few haymakers. Advantage: Erskine. If you are counting at home, Sutton racked up as many penalty minutes (nine) as minutes played.
- Mike Green (inner ear) missed the game. Doubt we’ll see him against San Jose Thursday night. The Capitals desperately need him back.
- The Capitals power play continues to sputter. No power play goals tonight, and the Ducks managed an unacceptable short-handed tally in the second. Personally, I think it’s time to get Alex Ovechkin off the point and back up front. It’s worth a shot, eh?
- This seems odd to say in such a high-scoring affair, but Hannan played one of his best games as a Capital. He led the Caps in ice time (25:19), and played reasonably well against Anaheim’s crazy-good top line. Hard to believe the Caps got him for a forward who is now out for the year.
- Wait a second. They gave Corey Perry the number one star of the game and not Semin? That’s like throwing a party for Al Gore after he lost the 2000 election. Nice try. Good effort. Decent creativity. But a loss is a loss.
- Ian and I talked about it. We don’t think Semyon Varlamov deserved to be pulled. He wasn’t exactly conjuring up memories of Patrick Roy in his prime, but the Ducks were doing an outstanding job of blocking his vision. The Capitals, meanwhile, were doing a miserable job of just about everything defensively. What happened to the courageous, unselfish group that relishes blocking shots and playing it close to the vest? They’ve done it twice against the Penguins in 2011, but apparently they are merely picking their spots.
- The Capitals matched a season-high with their seven goals tonight. They also scored seven against New Jersey (Oct. 9) and Calgary (Oct. 30). Here’s a shocker: The Caps are 3-0 when they score seven goals this year. Also, this was the most combined goals in any Capitals game this year. I’m pretty sure this is also the longest recap in Russian Machine Never Breaks history. What’s even more remarkable: I’m usually a concise writer. Just goes to show you how crazy tonight was.
- I’ll leave you with one final thought: Craig Laughlin likes his pizza with Canadian bacon and pineapple. Joe B does not. If they can’t share a pizza, can they truly be friends?
It’s off to San Jose. We’ll be back here tomorrow night, will you?
Additional reporting by Chris Gordon and Ian Oland.