Haven’t seen many of these lately. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)
Lauri Korpikoski picked up the puck at center-ice after being awarded a penalty shot and skated in on Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun. With a quick flick of the wrist the puck was in the back of the net, and the Caps down 2-0. Bruce Boudreau — possibly fighting for his coaching life — turned his back is disgust and slammed into the plexiglass to his left with fervor. It was a new low this year for the Caps, who were coming off a horrendous 7-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night and in the mist of the skid that saw them lose six of seven and four straight. But after hitting rock bottom, the Caps finally got back up — with a lot of luck and maybe a little help from a certain red balloon.
It was a mere 53 seconds after Korpikoski’s short-handed goal when Washington got one back. The goal scorer was John Carlson, who unleashed a blast from the point that deflected off a Phoenix stick and past Coyotes netminder Jason Labarbera just as the Caps power-play expired. Three minutes later, child prodigy Cody Eakin got in on the action when his wrist shot dinged off yet another opposition skater and into the back on the net, tying the game.
For a team struggling to put anything together, finally seeing the red light go on and, maybe more importantly, hear the home fans behind them was what finally lit the fire.
“That’s what you need to kind of jump start us. You saw after that we had the spark and momentum, everyone seemed to be going,” Carlson said of Eakin’s marker.
Matt Hendricks, who tried to do his part late in the first period with a bout against Kyle Chipchura, agreed.
“We talked about it earlier yesterday and today about keeping the game a little more simple for us and getting pucks to the net. Look at what happened: Eakin’s goal off a couple sticks, it goes in the net; Carly’s goal off their D’s stick, it goes in the net. Just shooting the puck right now and eventually they’ll find the back of the net.”
The Caps searched for more, but for ten minutes the going was fruitless. Less than two minutes in the third frame, however, Nicklas Backstrom gave the Caps something they haven’t had in 114 minutes and one second: a lead.
With a Brooks Laich insurance tally (which, true to its name, protected against Korpikoski retaliatory strike in the remaining minutes) Washington held on for their first victory in 10 days. In case you haven’t heard, that’s more than a week.
The Caps were gleeful afterwards, breaking out their theme song for the good ol’ days of 2010, the esteemed DJ Pauly D’s “Beat Dat Beat.” The “song” was promptly cut off when reporters entered the locker room to the boos of players.
“I think there’s a little bit of sarcastic energy in this room,” Carlson said after the game. “But we know that tomorrow we got to get back to work and we got to continue what we’re doing, because as we’ve seen if we let off the gas peddle then teams are too good to [just let us] squeak by anymore.”
While the players were certainly relieved, there is no denying that no one needed this game more than Boudreau. It’s been four years to the day since he took over behind the bench after a period of listless play by an underachieving but talented team. Since then, Boudreau has racked up wins — well, at least regular season ones — at record pace, newly surpassing the docile Don Cherry to become the fastest head coach to reach 200 wins in NHL history, taking just 326 games. But with playoff failures and pathetic play lately, he was still managed to find himself on the hot seat lately in eery territory. And while the Caps 2011 are much different than their counterparts of 2007, it still doesn’t make for a comfortable comparison. But now — well at for the 48 hours until the Caps’ match-up against the Jets — the foul-mouthed general can put it off the talk of his departure.
“It’s one win,” Boudreau said. “I mean, it’s against a good team and I think they hard, but when you’re getting out — or hopefully getting out of a little funk — it doesn’t go from low to high, it takes little steps. Hopefully on Wednesday we’ll be better than we were today.”
He added: “I would have traded 199 of those for that one today.”
Before I let you go, I’ll give you one more quote. This one from our friend Matt Hendricks, the guy who stuck his face in front of Chipchura’s fists in an attempt to spark an inert team:
“We’ve got a lot of leaders in this room. A lot of guys say the right things, it’s about getting on the same page and doing the right things. You can talk about things as much as you want, but until we go out and execute we’re not going to get the results.”
That, more than anything, is what the Caps need to internalize. Because next time they might not get the bounces to go their way, and they have far too much talent to go on long losing streaks every year. It sounds cliche but it’s worth repeating.
Just win, dammit.