Hendy tells Sasha what we can only assume is “I freakin’ love you” after Semin scores the OTGWG.
Entering tonight’s game with the Florida Panthers, the Capitals only trailed the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning by one standings point for the Southeast Division lead. Karl Alzner told CSN before the game, “It’s nice to have that battle going on at the end of the season. In the end, I think it’s going to help us gear up for that playoff push.” After several years of dominating the division, coasting into the playoffs, and then losing in the early rounds, Alzner’s words are certainly reassuring from a fan’s perspective. Could this division battle down the stretch be everything that the Capitals need?
One thing that still needs to be corrected by the Capitals, however, if they have dreams of playing in June is their poor play in the first period. While they’ve noticeably ramped up their intensity in the game’s opening minutes, they still have had problems scoring the game’s first goal. Tonight, was no different.
Florida got off to an early 1-0 lead after taking advantage of a Dennis Wideman turnover in the offensive zone. After several attempts to get the puck deep and failing, Bill Thomas took the puck from Wideman, passed the puck up to teammate Michal Repik, and the two raced in alone on John Erskine and Michal Neuvirth. Erskine, who failed to take away the pass on the two-on-one, watched helplessly as Repik hit Thomas in stride and deposited the puck into the back of the net. The Capitals however, quickly responded a minute and 13 seconds later. After some powerful forechecking by Alex Ovechkin in the corners, Ovi found Nicklas Backstrom unguarded in the middle of the circles. Backstrom’s one-timer eluded Scott Clemmensen and the game was tied.
Scoring would not pick up until midway through the second period. At 10:02, John Carlson unleashed a slap shot that Clemmensen could not corral. The puck squirted out to Boyd Gordon in the slot, who suavely backhanded home his second goal of the year.
Things would then get dicey in the final minutes of the third period, as the Capitals would not be able to hold onto their one goal lead. After Erskine and Wideman took penalties, David Booth forced overtime by scoring in front of the net on the proceeding five-on-three powerplay. But that’s okay. Alex Semin is a stone cold pimp and ended it in overtime
28 48 seconds in. Caps top Cats, 3-2.
- Don’t look now, but the Capitals are finally starting to put it all together. They’ve won four in a row, six of seven, and are now in first place for the first time since December 29th.
- Though Boyd Gordon was given the hardhat for his play tonight, the Swedes were the ones who won my heart tonight. I must say, that was the most “North American” they’ve played all year. Nicklas Backstrom, who along with Mike Knuble had all five first period scoring chances, won 11 of 17 draws, forechecked tenaciously in the corners, and scored a beauty of a goal by over-powering Clemmensen in the slot. Marcus Johansson did me proud by blocking a shot on a first period penalty kill off of his right ankle. He laid on the ice in agony and had to be helped off the playing surface by team trainer Greg Smith and a teammate. For a guy who avoided contact in the corners in the beginning of the year, this is yet another example of how much this kid has grown as a player. What a great sacrifice of his body for the team. Low and behold, the hockey gods rewarded Johansson as he assisted Alex Semin on his OTGWG.
- The second line was thoroughly shut down tonight. Brooks Laich and Jason Arnott managed zero even strength scoring chances during the game, and the trio of players combined for only one shot: Semin’s game-winner in Overtime. While they didn’t produce a goal together, we must give them credit for taking the body hard and dishing out five hits.
- Alex Ovechkin continues to be awesome. Sure, he had an assist and four shots, but I was most impressed by how he continues to use the juggle-the-puck-in-mid-air-with-his-stick move while striding into the offensive zone like it’s no big deal. Sometimes when I watch him play, I just can’t believe what I’m seeing. Impossible things for most people are easy for the Russian Machine. His highlight reel will most certainly be Jordan-esque when he retires.
- John Erskine was on the ice for zero even strength scoring chances for, and eight against. Ouch.
- Everybody’s favorite grinder Matt Hendricks fought Kenndal McArdle. Unfortunately, it was not one of Hendy’s more impressive bouts as Locker entertained the idea that both combatants should have been given two minutes each for roughing while on air. Yikes.
- Florida learned that it’s a bad idea to pick on a superhero. John Carlson, who was hit twice (1, 2) violently by Steve Bernier, took a retaliatory cross-checking minor after the last hit. The Caps proceeded to kill of J-Car’s minor, and then on Carlson’s next shift, he unleashed a booming slap shot, the rebound of which went directly to Boyd Gordon for an easy goal. Lesson learned: Captain America doesn’t take %&^.
- Two boneheaded plays by Dennis Wideman led to both Florida goals tonight. Wideman’s offensive zone turnover in the first led to Bill Thomas’s first period goal, and his slashing penalty while on the penalty kill, put the Capitals two men down with three minutes left in the game. While those were tough plays, he still managed to play a great game while teamed up with Scott Hannan. Combined the two were on the ice for ten of twelve even strength scoring chances for, and only two of Florida’s twelve against.
- After today, the Capitals have given up four goals on thirteen opportunities while two men down. Crazily enough, David Booth has a pair of those goals.
- Overall, the Caps were outchanced 14 to 17, and had only one opportunity in the third which came with 16:43 left in the period.
- The Capitals fathers are on the current road trip and word on the street is that Bobby Orr, who is Tom Poti’s agent, was in the suite with them for a period or two. What a treat! Both Frank Fehr and Gunther Alzner also did fantastic intermission interviews with Joe Beninati. It’s nice that the Capitals could rally so that these guys could see a win!
Boyd I Laich that we Arnott in second place anymore. The Capitals now turn their attention to the Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow, where they will try to extend their division lead to three points and win both games of a back-to-back series for the second time this year.
These are absolutely the games you have to win down the stretch if you are going to be a division champion and a Stanley Cup contender. Can the Capitals do it? We’ll find out tomorrow. See you then.
Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg.