|Jason Chimera put the dagger in his old team Thursday.|
The Washington Capitals squeaked out a big win Thursday, defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets inside Verizon Center by a final score of 4-3 in overtime. Jason Chimera scored the winner for the home side exactly halfway through the extra session, extracting revenge on the team that traded him away last winter. This game was not without flaws, however. The Caps took the lead three separate times and let Columbus tie it each time before finally winning it in OT. Michal Neuvirth made 20 saves for the win, and John Carlson, Mike Knuble, and Jason Arnott scored the other goals for Washington. With the win, the Capitals remain six points clear of the Lightning for first place in the Southeast Division, as the Bolts won tonight; Tampa Bay holds a game in hand on the Capitals. They also pull four points clear of the Bruins for second place in the Eastern Conference, as the Bruins fell in a shootout tonight. Boston also holds a game in hand.
Washington got off to a good start, controlling play early and getting two great chances from Alexander Semin just over a minute into the game, but the Russain was stopped on the doorstep by Steve Mason. The Capitals would pounce soon after, however, as John Carlson buried a rebound at 1:39 for a 1-0 Washington lead. The Caps kept controlling the play as the period continued, outshooting the Blue Jackets by a wide margin. Their pressure would pay off at 7:18 when Scottie Upshall was given the gate for tripping, awarding DC their first power play. Washington was unable to keep their advantage for long, however, as Marco Sturm took a hooking call at 7:59, leading to some four on four. Neither team was able to score of the four on four nor the Blue Jacket's abbreviated power play, and the game returned to five on five. Inside of ten minutes remaining, Columbus began to control the puck some more and got their first sustained pressure, but Michal Neuvirth made a great save through traffic to keep the Jackets off the board. The Capitals then picked up their offensive pressure again, setting up a solid offensive zone forecheck, but were unable to beat Mason for a second time to increase their lead. With 3 minutes left, John Erskine and Jarred Boll threw down in a nice fight, a bout that big John won soundly. As the period began to wind down, the Caps again ratcheted up their pressure, getting some amazing chances in close, but Mason was impressive to keep the deficit at one after the opening 20 minutes.
The Capitals got off to another solid start in the second, as Alex Ovechkin broke in on a rush in the first minute, but he was denied by Mason. Washington again continued to control the play early with more good puck possession and solid shots, but Mason continued to hold strong against the attack. The Blue Jackets then began to come on strong however, getting their own puck possession that kept DC on their heels, and the Caps had to rely on Michal Neuvirth to make some nice saves to keep them in the lead. Matt Hendricks was able to break up the momentum with a break of his own with about 12 minutes left, and then the Capitals began to set up some good pressure of their own in the offensive zone. Columbus was able to break back soon after, however, and Antoine Vermette equalized in front at 11:10. The game would not stay tied for long, as Mike Knuble took a great pass from Nicklas Backstrom just over a minute later to restore the Washington lead at 12:32. Columbus responded immediately, as Fedor Tyutin's point shot beat Neuvirth short side at 13:16, but the Capitals kept right at it, and Jason Arnott scored in front off a great pass from Marco Sturm to take the lead again just 13 seconds later at 13:27. The Blue Jackets were awarded a power play at 16:06 when Matt Hendricks was boxed for a hold, but the Caps were able to kill off the infraction with relative ease. The rest of the second period expired without incident, and the Caps took a 3-2 lead to the locker room after the middle stanza.
Washington got off to their third consecutive strong start in the third period as Alexander Semin got a good shot off early that Mason had to make a nice play on to keep DC from extending their lead. The Capitals then set up shop in the offensive zone with more good forecheck pressure and puck possession, but again were held off by Mason. Then it was the Jackets' turn, who came hard at the Washington defense with a cycle of their own, but Neuvirth was again able to keep Columbus from drawing even. Inside of ten minutes remaining, the Capitals began to try and shut the game down with a full trap, controlling the puck and getting it deep on the Blue Jacket defense to prevent sustained pressure. The strategy didn't work, though, as Scottie Upshall collected a pass high in the offensive zone and blasted a shot past Michal Neuvirth to equalize at 14:23. The Blue Jackets then really began to crank it up, coming at the Caps in waves and forcing them to play defensive hockey. Washington was able to break the pressure a little inside of about 2 minutes remaining with some rushes, but could not put another one past Mason. Regulation then expired without incident, and the game moved to overtime.
In the extra session, the Caps got off to a good start, with Alexander Semin again coming close on an offensive zone rush. After some Columbus pressure, however, it was Jason Chimera who ended the game with a beautiful tip-in goal at 2:30, sending the Verizon Center into pandemonium.
This was not a pretty game and it was not one that the Capitals deserved to win. I'm sorry, but this is the Blue Jackets. They are one of the worst teams in the West. They were missing their best player and captain in Rick Nash. Washington needs to be able to beat this team in regulation convincingly. This is now two subpar games in a row against non-playoff opponents that the Caps have allowed to become tied late in the game after holding a lead into the third period. But hey, we won. So there's that.
John Carlson was amazing. Captain America was second on Capitals in ice time, blocked a shot, and took four shots in addition to his goal and assist. He was called on bigtime to fill in for the injured Dennis Wideman and then John Erskine, and he responded beautifully. Carlson was all over the ice, making smart plays and taking away passing lanes, and his goal was a product of pure offensive instict. Just another night at the office. Carry on.
Michal Neuvirth was ok. His stat line was not spectacular by any means, but he got the job done late in the game when it mattered most. He got some great run support again, and he benefited from it again. I think we see him on Saturday; though he wasn't great, he got the job done and brought home the win. You can't argue with that.
The Capitals will likely hold an optional practice tomorrow morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Their next game is Saturday night against the Sabres, and that one is schedule for 7 P.M. And in other very bad news from the Caps today, Dennis Wideman is out indefinitely.