|Brooks Laich and the Caps really should have won this one.|
The Capitals got off to a great start, as Alex Ovechkin drove to the net inside the first minute and dished a nice pass to Mike Knuble, but defenseman Tim Gleason made a nice play to keep the puck away from the winger. Washington continued to press the Hurricanes defense as the early part of the period continued, applying good forecheck pressure, but were unable to put one through Cam Ward despite some quality shots by Alex Ovechkin. At 8:23, both Bryan Allen and Jason Arnott were boxed for roughing after a scrum in front of Ward's net, and the game moved to four on four. Just 33 seconds into the mathcing minors, however, Brooks Laich was sent off for interference at 8:56, giving Carolina a rare 4 on 3 power play. Washington was able to execute a perfect penalty kill that was aided by some nice stops by Semyon Varlamov, however, and soon after, the Caps were awarded a power play of their own when Chad LaRose was boxed for boarding at 11:39. Despite some excellent chances, though, the Washington power play continued to struggle, and could not convert. The Capitals were then given another power play less than a minute later when Erik Cole was penalized for hooking at 14:34. But Cam Ward continued to play very well, and made three solid saves to keep DC off the board. The penalty parade continued less than a minute later again, as Scott Hannan was given the gate for interference at 18:05. Washington's penalty killers stood strong once more, however, and the period ended with the teams tied at 0.
In the second period, it was the Hurricanes who got off to a strong start, as a chance for Jeff Skinner inside the first 60 seconds was closely followed by a tripping call on Nicklas Backstrom at 1:06. The Capitals could not kill this one off, however, as Jussi Jokinen waltzed right down the middle of the ice and put the puck past Varlamov at 2:29 for a 1-0 Carolina lead. Washington was then assessed another minor at 2:41 when John Erskine was sent off for roughing, but were able to kill that one off without much difficulty. The Capitals then set up a great shift by their top line in front, but again, the great play of Ward kept them from equalizing. Washington was then awarded a power play at 11:03 when Jamie McBain was penalized for slashing. The early part of the Capitals' power play was brutal, and Chad LaRose was awarded a shorthanded penalty shot after a questionable call on Mike Knuble, but Varlamov was able to make a poke-check save. Washington was unable to score on the rest of the power play, but finally got their equalizer soon after when Alexander Semin roofed a puck past Cam Ward at 14:18. After Dennis Wideman was injured by a hard hit along the boards, the Caps continued their pressure and missed a few chances, particularly Alexander Semin. Soon after, however, Marcus Johansson collected a pass from Semin and deked in on Ward, burying it past the Carolina goalie at 17:35 for a 2-1 Caps lead. As the period wound down, both teams looked fired up and got some great chances, but the score held and the Caps took a 2-1 lead to the dressing room.
In the third, the Hurricanes got off to a good start again, and Jeff Skinner was able to tie the game at 1:46 when he wristed a weak shot past Semyon Varlamov, a goal that the Russian definitely would want back. As the period continued, the Capitals were really deflated, clearly having lost their momentum after that soft Varlamov goal, and were not able to mount any sustained offensive pressure against a desperate Carolina team. Inside 13 minutes remaining, the game began to tilt in Carolina's favor, as the Hurricanes took advantage of lazy play in the defensive zone to get several good shots off that were stopped by Varlamov. The loss of Dennis Wideman really began to hurt them as well, as the Washington defenders looked tired as they were forced to rotate five blueliners instead of the usual six. With about six minutes left, the Capitals tried to mount another offensive, but were again unable to get anything through Ward. The Hurricanes started to mount pressure after that, and got a break when Alexander Semin took a hooking call at 16:41 for late Hurricanes power play. During the penalty kill, the Capitals were completely on their heels early, but managed to pull off the kill with the aid of some good saves by Varlamov. Despite some late rushes by the Caps inside the last minute, however, Washington was not able to break the tie and the game moved to overtime.
In the extra frame, the Caps got off to a good start with a chance in the first minute off the stick of Brooks Laich and then soon after a great chance from Alex Ovechkin. Overtime continued with good pace and back and forth action from both teams, but neither team was able to score, and the game headed to a shootout.
In the shootout, Jeff Skinner scored and Alex Ovechkin was stopped in the first round. In the second round, Jussi Jokinen was stopped by Varlamov, but Nicklas Backstrom missed wide. The final round saw Tuomo Ruutu put a backhander past Varlamov, and the Hurricanes skated away with a 3-2 win.
Semyon Varlamov has got to be better. He made some nice saves early in the game and late in the third period to keep the game tied, but the second goal he allowed was very soft. That goal cost the Caps the game and cannot be allowed in a game like this late in the season. In order to be the man at the NHL level, especially in the playoffs for a team like the Capitals, you have to make saves like that. We'll see Neuvirth on Thursday.
The biggest news of the night, despite the loss, has got to be the health of Dennis Wideman. The defenseman took a hard hit in the corner midway through the second period and though he was able to skate off under his own power, he was clearly favoring his leg. The Capitals simply cannot afford to lose Wideman for an extended period, not only because of his skill set, but also because the backup plan is Tyler Sloan. After the game, all Bruce Boudreau would divulge was that he was "ok" and "day-to-day." Of course.
Alex Ovechkin was solid in his first game back after missing three to rest multiple nagging injuries. He didn't register a point, but laid five hits, took five shots, and had good energy all night. He also showed good leadership by going after Tuomo Ruutu after the latter nailed Wideman in the corner. Ovechkin looked comfortable, though he did flex his rest noticeably a number of times during the game. I'm not worried, though. Not yet, at least.
The Capitals will practice tomorrow morning at 11 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Their next game is scheduled for Thursday night, when they will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 P.M. inside Verizon Center.