Big Game Hunters – Game number 36 on the Washington schedule in this truncated NHL season put the Caps at the three-quarter mark of the campaign. Down in Raleigh to take on the Hurricanes, it was also clearly the biggest game of the season for both sides to date.
As they did on their last visit to PNC Arena, the Caps dug themselves an 0-2 hole against their hosts. And as they did on their previous visit, the Capitals rallied to get out of town with two hard-earned and much needed points.
Tuesday night’s final was 5-3 in favor of the Caps, but it didn’t come easy.
The Canes got the jump on Washington in the first, killing off an Alexander Semin hooking minor and then getting the game’s first goal from Jiri Tlusty at 11:32 of the first. Just over a minute later, Caps center Jay Beagle went off for interference, and Tlusty fired a shot to the far side on Caps goalie Braden Holtby to give his team a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Washington was having trouble getting pucks to the net. Hurricanes skaters blocked seven of the Capitals’ first nine shot bids, and the home team seemed to be on the verge of taking control.
Carolina entered the game both weary and wounded. The Canes were weary because they had to travel home from Montreal after Monday night’s 4-1 loss to the Canadiens, By the time they cleared customs and made their way home, it was 2 a.m. Carolina was wounded because it entered Tuesday’s game with just one win in its last nine contests (1-7-1).
Washington captain Alex Ovechkin appeared to have been shot out of a cannon in the first period. He launched Carolina forward Jeff Skinner early in the contest, and seemed to have a jet back strapped to his back. In the final minute of the first frame, Ovechkin took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and launched something else, his patented wrist shot. It eluded Carolina goalie Dan Ellis and put the Caps back on the map at 2-1.
“Big goal by Ovi at the end of the first period,” says Caps coach Adam Oates, “A huge goal. We had nothing. We gave them two [goals]. We didn’t have a great start. A big goal for us to get back into the game and at intermission to regroup.”
Early in the second, Skinner went to the box for smothering the puck. When Mike Green’s drive from center point got past Ellis just 42 seconds into the second, it evened the game and gave the Caps their second goal in a span of just 81 seconds.
“I think it was a big goal there,” says Backstrom. “Obviously, you’re down 2-0 and you get a late goal there in the first period. We got a little confidence from that. And we buried on the PP right away there in the second period.”
A mere 34 seconds after Green evened the score at 2-2, Ovechkin was called for hooking. Tlusty and the Canes cashed in quickly when the left wing finished off a pretty passing sequence to complete his hat trick and restore the Carolina lead at 3-2.
The Caps were undaunted. They knew that Ellis – just activated off injured reserve the night before and winless lifetime against Washington – vulnerable. The Hurricanes’ lead lasted less than three minutes before Green drew the Caps even once again. Backstrom forced a Joni Pitkanen turnover and teed the puck up for Green, who sailed a wrist shot past Ellis to make it 3-3. It was at that point that the beleaguered Ellis was pulled in favor of Justin Peters, owner of a 127-minute and 53-second shutout streak over Washington at the time of his insertion.
Ovechkin solved the mystery that had been Justin Peters when he fired a rocket of a shot past the Carolina goaltender at 11:06 of the second, ending his shutout spell over Washington at 135 minutes and 33 seconds.
When Backstrom went off for interference at 18:32, the Canes had a chance to draw even with their suddenly awakened power play.
Instead, the Caps pounced on a shorthanded opportunity. Marcus Johansson intercepted Canes defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron’s pass near the right point and tore down the left wing wall with Joel Ward alongside on a 2-on-1 rush. Johansson put a deft and sublime saucer pass right on Ward’s stick, and the Caps had tallied in the final minute for the second time in as many frames.
“It’s given us the momentum going into the next period,” says Green of the crippling late-period goals. “It’s been good. We need goals like that. We’ve been on the opposing end when guys have scored late in the period and it kind of brings your morale down. It takes a while to get it back.”
Washington killed off the remainder of the Backstrom minor and expertly killed a John Carlson cross-checking infraction in the third as they salted away the game and two more huge standings points.
“I’m really proud of them,” says Canes coach Kirk Muller. “I thought they showed a lot of character. We battled hard. We probably double-chanced them tonight in shots and chances. We just didn’t get the right outcome.”
Number Nine, Number Nine – Ovechkin stretched his scoring streak to nine straight games. He has totaled 10 goals and 15 points during the life of his current streak.
Ovechkin’s last scoring streak of this length was a nine-game spree from Jan. 27-Feb. 11, 2010, at the end of the team’s franchise-record 14-game winning streak. Ovechkin had nine goals and 19 points in those nine games. He had another nine-game streak just before that, and the two nine-game streaks were separated by just one game without a point.
Ironically, that one game without a point was the game in which an Ovechkin slapshot broke then-Islanders defenseman Jack Hillen’s jaw. The Caps won that game 7-2 despite getting no offensive contributions from their newly minted captain.
The last time Ovechkin had a scoring streak of as many as 10 games was late in the 2008-09 season when he reeled off three long streaks separated by single goose-egg games. A 10-game streak from Jan. 27-Feb. 18, 2009 in which he totaled 11 goals and 16 points was followed by one scoreless game and then another 10-game run from Feb. 22-March 14, 2009 that produced seven goals and 14 points. After one more scoreless game, Ovechkin set out on a nine-game spree that stretched from March 17-April 7 and produced six goals and 19 points.
The longest scoring streak of Ovechkin’s career is a 13-game run from Jan. 1-Feb. 1, 2007, during his sophomore season of 2006-07. He totaled eight goals and 20 points during that streak.
For the 2012-13 season, Ovechkin’s 37 points have him tied for 10th in the NHL. He is the fifth player in the league to reach the 20-goal plateau, and he is tied for third in the circuit in that category.
All Lined Up – Ovechkin’s linemates are both on scoring tears of their own. With four primary assists in Tuesday’s tilt, Backstrom now has four goals and 20 points in his last 17 games.
With a pair of helpers on Tuesday, Johansson now has four goals and 12 points in his last 10 games.
The 400 Club – Backstrom’s second assist of the night was his 400th career point and it came the game after his 400th career game. He now has 402 career points (107 goals, 295 assists) in 401 career games in the NHL.
Green Means Go – Green has five goals and six points in his last six games. Despite missing 13 games, he is tied for third in the NHL for goals among defensemen with seven.
Does he feel like his radar is back?
“As far a seeing the ice when getting the opportunities, everything kind of slows down again where you can kind of see the holes, yeah, I would say so,” responds Green.
Road Warriors – Tonight concluded a grueling stretch of schedule in which Washington played nine of its last 11 games on the road in a span of 20 nights. That stretch looked a bit daunting when it started, as Washington carried a 3-7-1 road mark at that stage.
Washington started that stretch with a 3-2 win over the Hurricanes here in Raleigh on March 14. They concluded it with tonight’s 5-3 win over the Canes, a win that gave left them with a 6-2-1 record during that span.
Shorty – Ward’s shorthanded goal was the Capitals’ second in the last three games and third of the season. For Ward, it was his first regular season shorthanded goal since Jan. 11, 2010 when he scored a shorty against Vancouver while playing with the Nashville Predators.
“Great timing,” says Ward of his goal, “We’ve been getting some timely goals in key situations. I got a nice pass from Marcus and I just had to get a good whack at it. I was fortunate to put one in. It definitely felt good to contribute.”
The Capitals are tied for sixth in the league in shorthanded goals.
Back In The Saddle – Caps defenseman John Erskine returned to the lineup for the first time since March 9 after missing a dozen games with an upper body injury.
Erskine logged 13:32 of ice time on Tuesday, all of it at even strength. He recorded two hits and two blocked shots.
Top Of The Hill – It took 36 games, but Washington has reached the break-even mark for the first time this season at 17-17-2. The Caps have also ascended to .500 on the road for the season at 9-9-2.
“I wish we could have done it earlier,” says Ovechkin. “But it is what it is. It feels good. We just have to play the same way.”
The Ladder – Tuesday’s win drew the Caps to within two points of Winnipeg for the top spot in the Southeast Division, as the Jets suffered a 5-2 road set back to the Islanders on Tuesday.
Washington put Carolina in the rear view mirror on Tuesday, moving into second in the Southeast, two points up on the Canes. The Caps are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the ninth-place New York Rangers and three points behind the eighth-place New Jersey Devils and the Islanders.
Destiny – Washington awakened in Raleigh on Tuesday morning fully in charge of its own playoff destiny, courtesy of Winnipeg and Carolina losses at New York and Montreal, respectively on Monday night.
With Tuesday’s win, the Caps maintained that destiny. Although they trail the Jets by two points in the Southeast standings, the Capitals hold two games in hand on Winnipeg and have one game remaining with the Jets. If they win those games and match whatever Winnipeg does otherwise, the Caps will finish ahead of the Jets.
Washington is now two points ahead of the Hurricanes, and although the Canes hold a game in hand, the Caps would finish ahead of Carolina if they win the one remaining game between the two teams this season while matching whatever else the Canes do the rest of the way.
“We knew where we were and where we stand and what games are the most important here,” says Green. “And tonight was the biggest one for us yet. We needed to come out and play strong like we did and get the two points because if we didn’t, we set ourselves way back. The guys pulled through; the guys played great.”
Top Line Tussle – Carolina’s top offensive trio of Tlusty, Eric Staal and Semin and Washington’s first line of Johansson, Backstrom and Ovechkin figured prominently throughout the game.
When it was all said and done, the Caps’ top unit owned the advantage on the night.
Washington’s top line combined for two goals, seven assists, nine points, 14 shot attempts and six shots on goal; all six shots came from Ovechkin’s stick. The trio was a combined plus-8 on the evening.
Carolina’s top trio put up three goals, four assists, seven points, 16 shot tries and eight shots on goal. The threesome was a minus-8 overall.
Tough Loss – Late in the second period, Pitkanen barely beat Caps’ winger Troy Brouwer to a puck on an icing touch-up, but he did so at a serious cost. Pitkanen lost his edge and went into the boards hard, suffering an ankle injury that is expected sideline him for three months.
New Blood – Having acquired journeyman defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron from Tampa Bay in a deal earlier in the day, Carolina gave its newest rearguard a sweater for Tuesday’s game. The Canes went with seven defensemen and 11 forwards in their lineup.
Obtained to help boost the moribund Carolina power play, Bergeron helped achieve that effect. Carolina scored two power play goals in four tries on Tuesday against Washington, marking the first time in 23 games the Canes have had multiple power play goals in the same game.
Bergeron has been a bit of a Caps killer over the years, and he notched an assist on Tlusty’s second goal of the night. Lifetime against Washington, Bergeron now has two goals and a dozen points in a dozen career contests.
Bergeron can also be a bit of a liability, and he showed that aspect of his game tonight, too. It was his giveaway on the Carolina power play that led to Ward’s shorthanded goal.
Although he has played fewer than 500 career NHL games, Bergeron has now worn the sweaters of seven different NHL clubs.
By The Numbers – Carolina had 65 shot attempts to 43 for Washington on the night … Green led the Caps with 24:21 in ice time … Ovechkin (six) and Green (four) combined for 10 shots on net, more than half of Washington’s total of 19 … Aaron Volpatti led the Caps with six hits and did so with just 8:00 in ice time … Carlson led the Caps with four blocked shots … Jay Beagle won eight of 10 face-offs (80%) … Volpatti was the only Washington forward who did not take a face-off in the game … Nine of the 11 Carolina forwards took at least one draw … Skinner led the Canes with 22:10 in ice time and five shots on net … Drayson Bowman paced the Hurricanes with five hits … Jay Harrison led Carolina with four blocked shots.