The first period of last night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes had the faint whiff of disaster hovering about it. Okay, it had the stench of rot. Alexander Semin scored 74 seconds into the game (fun fact: “74” was Semin’s first jersey number with the Caps) when as he carried the puck around the back of the Caps’ net, Marcus Johansson tried to follow him, got hung up in the netting, lost his stick, then lost Semin, who ended up uncovered six feet in front of goalie Michal Neuvirth in front of the Caps’ net. Semin popped in a pass from Eric Staal, and Caps fans were silently thinking, “here we go again.”
Seven minutes later, Patrick Dwyer scored for the Hurricanes, and it looked like another night of Carolina jumping on an opponent hard in the early going, and doing it at even strength – their modus operandi in a 6-1-0 run coming into this game. Then, in the last minute of the period John Carlson went off for interference, followed by the Hurricanes peppering Neuvirth with three shots in the last 29 seconds. The Hurricanes took a 2-0 lead to the first intermission on 16 shots, and it looked as if it was only a matter of time before they would get a third goal early in the second period.
And then…things took a turn.
The Caps killed off the remaining 1:11 of the Carolina power play, and it seemed to give the Caps a foothold. Over the next 4:45 the Caps directed five shots at Hurricane goalie Dan Ellis, although only two of them actually ended up on net. It was the second of those shots that signaled a strange and wondrous change in the game.
Joey Crabb scored.
It was the first goal for Crabb since Game 2 of the season, against Montreal. As the Carolina TV guys said, “bang, bang…the grinders get it done.” It was a simple centering feed from Aaron Volpatti, who beat Justin Faulk to the puck along the left wing wall, to Crabb, who beat Tim Wallace to an open space at the top of the crease to redirect the puck in. That was how the second period ended, which meant that if the Caps were to come back, they would have to hear from their big guys, who were heretofore silent in this contest.
Big milestones seem that much better when they mean something in the context of the game. Alex Ovechkin had been stuck on 699 career points for three games. He got point number 700 in typical Ovechkin style. On a power play, Nicklas Backstrom (who actually did the heavy lifting on the play as it unfolded) tried to thread a pass across to Ovechkin in the left circle out from below the goal line. Ellis tried to poke it away as it was sliding through, but managed only to put it right on the stick of Troy Brouwer, who redirected it to Ovechkin, still in the left wing circle. One-time…bang. Tie game. Where have we seen that before, and just as important, where has it been?
The game-winner came amid chaos in the Carolina crease (catchy title for a book, eh?). John Carlson started it with a seeing-eye pass from his own blue line between two Carolina defenders to Alex Ovechkin breaking behind the Hurricane defense. Ovechkin went in alone on Ellis, deked him to his stomach, and fired the puck behind him…off the post. The puck lay in the crease unseen by Ellis, still prone on the ice. Mike Ribeiro got to it first, Jiri Tlusty having taken the wrong path to it, ending up on the wrong side of Ellis’ body trying to poke at it. Ribeiro poked it over the line just as the rest of the Carolina troops were coming to defend the castle. For all we know, Ellis is still down on the ice.
It looked mighty good from there, except… there was that whole taking a penalty in the last 16 seconds thing. Nicklas Backstrom went off for holding at 19:44 with the Hurricanes skating six attackers. That meant that for the last 16 seconds the Caps would skate four-on-six. Carolina managed only a missed shot from Alexander Semin in those last 16 seconds, though, and the Caps had their win, 3-2.
-- Dueling Alexes… Semin: seven shots on goal (11 attempts), one goal, one assist, one penalty (roughing?...whodathunkit?), two blocked shots, and he won his only faceoff in 21:14 of ice time. Ovechkin: six shots on goal (nine attempts), one goal, (update: and one assist...thatnks readers!), three hits, a takeaway, a blocked shot, and he finished plus-1 in 21:15 of ice time.
-- Equal opportunity… eight Caps shared in the nine points recorded on the three goals. Ovechkin was the only Cap with two points.
-- Unequal opportunity… Ovechkin, Carlson, and Eric Fehr combined for 15 shots on goal. The other 15 skaters combined for ten shots, and only Joel Ward had as many as two.
-- Style… having Aaron Volpatti and Joey Crabb in the game makes for a different sort of game than that which would be the case if Mathieu Perreault and Wojtek Wolski occupy those slots. Volpatti might have set an example. He had four hits in 12 minutes of play. Matt Hendricks had six hits. Even Eric Fehr had four. Troy Brouwer and Alex Ovechkin had three apiece. Karl Alzner had three…Karl Alzner.
-- Tomas Kundratek skated four shifts before getting tangled up with the Human Temper Tantrum, Jeff Skinner, and going out with a leg injury. That left the Caps with only five defensemen, meaning Alzner and Carlson would have to log big minutes…
-- ...but wait! Steve Oleksy ended up with more ice time than any skater on the ice – 27:55, including a whopping 25:07 at even strength, which was more than the total ice time of every skater for both teams except John Carlson (27:36 total).
-- The Caps allowed four power plays in this game and still won. That is the first time this season the Caps have allowed four or more power plays and won in regulation.
-- Michal Neuvirth stopped the last 28 shots he faced, eight of them on the Carolina power play. His 36 saves was the most for him in a win in regulation time since he stopped all 39 shots he faced in a 1-0 shutout of Pittsburgh on February 21, 2011.
-- The Caps took 17 faceoffs in the Carolina end, winning only six. Meanwhile, Carolina took 26 draws in the Capitals’ end, winning 16.
In the end, no streak gets started without “one.” The Caps have their “one” after dropping three straight. And it was a good “one,” too… on the opponent’s ice, coming back from a two-goal deficit, getting solid goaltending over the last two periods, getting the guys who have to score on the scoreboard, getting other guys to chip in. Once the Caps got past those first ten minutes, it was a solid effort all around. On to Boston!