|Your first star of the game, Matt Hendricks. He bomb. Again.|
The Hurricanes got off to a good start, generating forecheck pressure and possession inside the Capitals' zone as they tried to set the tone for the game early, outshot Washington 5-0 over the first four minutes. The Capitals, however, came back strong soon after, though and got some good chances of their own, including a hit goalpost off the stick of Jason Chimera. But the Hurricanes came back again, and almost got a break when Alexander Semin turned the puck over to Jeff Skinner, but Braden Holtby was there to deny the 18 year-old phenom. Soon after, however, Eric Fehr was boxed for holding at 8:56, but the Capitals penalty killers kept up their recent strong play and shut down the Carolina man advantage. Despite the kill, however, the Hurricanes continued to keep the pressure on the Caps, and the defense had difficulty keeping up with the Carolina forwards. When they finally did get a rush up ice, however, Jason Chimera was called for goaltender interference at 12:54, sending the Capitals to another kill. During the penalty, Marcus Johansson used his speed to draw a penalty on Skinner and set up some four on four hockey. When Washington got their power play however, they struggled to set anything up or get any pressure, and it expired without incident. As the period wore down, the Hurricanes came at the Caps again, but their aggression cost them when Jason Arnott was tripped by Eric Staal at 19:17. Despite a good early chance however, the Capitals were unable to score over the first 43 seconds of the man advantage, and the period ended with the score 0-0.
On the power play to start the second period, Washington got off to a very poor start, with no zone pressure, and then it got even worse when Alexander Semin was sent off for slashing at 0:55. But once again, the Capitals' penalty killers stood tall to keep Carolina off the board. The Hurricanes kept the pressure on, and once again were outshooting the Capitals by a wide margin early in the frame. Washington got a little bit of momentum after a good shift from the top line, but could not get anything through Cam Ward. Jason Arnott followed with an excellent chance, but Ward again somehow got across to deny the Capitals. The game then moved to a period of back and forth, with little contained puck possession but several good rushes up ice for both teams. The Capitals then got some more good chances, particularly from their top unit, but again, Ward managed to make two great saves in close to prevent the first goal of the game. Washington kept trying to press, with some chances by both Eric Fehr and Jason Arnott, but again could just simply not break Ward. However, it was the Hurricanes who finally got the break, as Tuomo Ruutu wristed a shot past a screened Braden Holtby for a 1-0 advantage with only 35 seconds left; the killer late goal. The remaining time past without incident, leaving Washington a tall task in the final frame.
In the third period, the Capitals got what they needed early when Alex Ovechkin ripped a wristshot from the top of the circles into the top corner to equalize at 47 seconds. After the goal, however, it was the Hurricanes who began to mount the pressure, getting great zone time and puck possession to put Washington on their heels again. The Carolina pressure eventually did pay dividends, as after several great saves by Braden Holtby to keep the score even, Jason Arnott was boxed for hooking at 5:14. The Hurricanes power play was fearsome at first, but the Capitals then began to kill off the penalty, and succeeded in preventing Carolina from scoring. Just as the penalty was ending, Matt Hendricks blocked a shot up high, and the bounce went right to the recently released Jason Arnott, who was home free. Arnott was denied by a miraculous pad save on his breakaway, but Hendricks followed the play beautifully and cashed the loose change for a 2-1 lead at 7:24. The Hurricanes came right back, but Braden Holtby continued to play well, and made several dynamite stops to keep the Caps in the lead. On the next Capitals rush, Washington had Ward down again, but Matt Bradley hit him in the helmet with his shot; keeping the score 2-1. But Carolina then came back as hard as ever and set up an incredibly dominating two minute shift in the offensive zone that eventually led to a Matt Bradley penalty when he was sent off for high-sticking at 14:45. Once again, however, the penalty killers were tremendous, and kept the Hurricanes from getting a shot off. After the penalty expired, Carolina got a great shot on Holtby and appeared to have tied off the rebound, but the goal was waved off because the referee blew the whistle very early; a huge break for the Caps. With 1:45 remaining, Paul Maurice pulled Ward, but despite several great chances, could not get one through Braden Holtby, and the Capitals brought home their seventh in a row.
Braden Holtby is certifiably insane. Seriously. This guy was a fourth round pick? Mercy. Holtby was excellent again and won this game for his team. He was cool and calm all night, moved around his crease well, and made 16 saves in the third period when his team needed him the most. The kid is making some ridiculous noise, and will start when the Stanley Cup champions visit on Sunday afternoon. He deserves it.
Alex Ovechkin had another great game. He took the game into his own hands to tie early in the third period after a crushing late goal against in the second, which is exactly what captains and great leaders do. His goal was a beauty was well, a wicked wrist shot over the shoulder through a screen (you could say vintage Ovie). The Captain is playing his best hockey of the season by a mile, and his recent resurgence has been remarkable.
Matt Hendricks was my hero tonight, and he was deserving of his first-star selection. The game winning goal was all of his creation: he blocked the shot with a selfless play to create the breakaway for Arnott in the first place, and his hard work trailing the play at the end of a long shift enabled him to chip home the game winning tally. An excellent game from number 26; his best in awhile. Players like him don't come around often. Shame on Colorado for letting him go.
The Capitals will return to the ice tomorrow morning at 11 AM for a practice as they prepare for their matinee showdown with the Blackhawks on Sunday. That game is scheduled for 12:30 P.M. and will be broadcast nationwide on NBC.