|Alex Semin celebrates his game winner Wednesday night.|
The Ducks got off to a hot start as they took advantage of several bad defensive zone turnovers by the Caps to get some good chances in front, and tested Semyon Varlamov early. Thiugh Varly was able to hold them off, the Ducks were aided in their offensive onslaught when Tyler Sloan was sent off for a penalty at the 2:40 mark. The elite Anaheim power play got right down to business, and Ryan Getzlaf potted a loose puck at the 4:20 mark for a 1-0 Ducks lead. The Ducks kept coming at the Caps after they had scored, and the Washington defense was no match for their big, fast top line. But Varlamov was sharp again to keep the Ducks from extending their lead. When the Caps finally did get an extended rush up ice, Ducks goalie Curtis McElhinney made a couple great saves to keep the off the board. But that all changed just inside 10 minutes, as Alex Ovechkin took a headman pass from Nicklas Backstrom and roared in on partial breakaway, converting a tremendous goal for the Caps' equalizer at the 10:43 mark. After Ovechkin's goal, though, the game slowed down into a bit of back and forth action, but it was the Ducks who seized the momentum next. Semyon Varlamov was called into duty again with 5 minutes left in the frame, and was excellent on Jason Blake to keep the score tied. Then the Caps got a gift when Brooks Laich was given the puck in the slot off a bad clearing pass, and Brooksie made no mistake with the puck to give the Caps a huge goal at 16:07. But the Ducks struck back quickly, mounting great offensive pressure, and the ageless Teemu Selanne scored with 18:05 left to equalize and take all of the Capitals' momentum away. But Anaheim did not go away, and Toni Lydman scored on a long slapshot just a minute and 30 seconds later to take a 3-2 lead to the dressing room.
Bruce Boudreau yanked Semyon Varlamov to start the second after his rough performance in the first and replaced him with Michal Neuvirth. Neuvy was tested right away as the Ducks mounted some good pressure early in the period, but the young Czech made two good saves early to keep the deficit at one. The Capitals were sent back to the power play at the 5:04 mark, but once again their man advantage struggled to gain any rhythm. Then the absolute worst thing that could have happened, did: Corey Perry stole the puck at the blue line, turned Alex Ovechkin inside out, and potted a shorthanded goal at 6:21 for a 4-2 Ducks lead. However, the Capitals, realizing their desperate need for points, would not go away and came right back with an excellent shift by the third line, and Dave Steckel cashed one in front 90 seconds later to bring the Caps within one again. The Capitals continued to pressure the Ducks relentlessly, and were rewarded again with 3 on 2 rush that saw Alexander Semin convert in front for his first goal in almost three months at the 9:41 mark. The Caps kept gunning, but McElhinney stoned Mike Knuble in close to keep the Caps from taking the lead soon after. But the Ducks then seized the momentum, and Lubomir Vishnovsky scored to put the Ducks ahead on a floater from the point that deflected off about six people before finding the back of the net; the marker came at the 13:18 mark. The Caps came right back again, but missed the net twice on possible chances to equalize. Despite some good offensive chances for the Caps as the period neared its close, though, the Caps still could not bust through and took a hit when Jason Chimera was slapped with a goalie interference penalty at the 18:57 mark. The Ducks again got excellent pressure with their power play, but the Capitals were saved by the bell on their penalty kill, and the second frame ended with a 5-4 Anaheim lead.
The third period got off to an explosive start as after the Capitals had killed off the Ducks' remaining power play time, Mike Knuble broke in alone on the Ducks goal and finished with a beautiful deke to equalize for the Caps again at the 58 second mark. Both teams then attempted to finally get ahead for good with great chances both ways, but again it was the Ducks who took the initiative to break through for another score. After Nicklas Backstrom knocked the Ducks' cage free of its moorings on a drive to the net, the referees allowed play to continue as the Ducks were on an odd-man rush. The Ducks top line took advantage of the Caps who were standing around, and completed a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play that ended with Bobby Ryan slamming home a slapshot from the top of the circle for a 6-5 Ducks lead at the 5:51 mark. But again, the Capitals would not go away, and kept coming at the Ducks from all angles as they desperately attempted to equalize again. After being awarded another power play after Tyler Sloan was tripped at neutral ice, the Caps really ratcheted up their pressure, but could not break through. Then, Alexander Semin took over the game. Inside of nine minutes remaining, Sasha went to the net on a hard drive and roofed a backhander over McElhinney's shoulder from in front for a truly beautiful goal and another tie score. As the period continued, Boudreau kept putting Semin out there, and the Ducks continually had no answer for him as he was dominant down low. Finally, Sasha was again rewarded for his hard work when he walked out of the corner and roofed another backhander past McElhinney for a 7-6 Caps lead at the 18:13 mark. The Ducks had many chances during the last two minutes, but the Caps defense finally held strong and Washington escaped the Honda Center with two huge points.
Now THAT is the Alex Semin that we all know and (sometimes) love. Semin was all over the place tonight: three goals, plus-four, and four shots on goal are all indicative of just how dominant and game-changing 28 can be when he is on. His last two goals were simply beautiful and heroic, and he should have been named the first star of the game (sick, Anaheim media, give a home player the first star in a game you lose). Now, the trick is keeping him on track. The jury is still out on that one...
Scott Hannan had an excellent game as well. All three of his blocks were big, front and center stoppages that denied the Ducks good scoring opportinities, and one saved the game by keeping the Ducks from going up 7-5 halfway through the third period. Hannan hasn't really impressed anyone since he came over, but he is a steadying presence on the blue line and was a great acquisition by George McPhee. When (if) Tom Poti gets healthy, the Capitals are going to have seven reliable, capable D. Trust me, that is an excellent problem to have.
The goalies did not have their best night. On either team. But I only care about Varlamov and Neuvirth. Varly should not have had the last goal in the first period, and that's what probably got him yanked, but other than that, you can't really fault a Capitals tender on any other goal. It was just one of those nights, and the stats will take a hit, except the one that matters: 1. That is, +1 in Michal Neuvirth's win column. He'll start tomorrow.
The Capitals are on their way to San Jose right now and will take on the Sharks tomorrow night at the HP Pavilion in another huge game. Hopefully the Caps can build momentum and use that game as a spring board of a big weekend. Puck drop tomorrow is scheduled for 10:30 P.M.