The Caps outplayed the Hurricanes pretty well during each of the first two periods, winning the first period 2-1, and dominating most of the second period despite being tied 2-2 during that stanza by a late period "delayed powerplay" goal by the 'Canes; and going into the start of the third period with a 4-3 lead. Between the second and third period Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice must have given his team a heckuva pep talk or they must have all just decided they wanted to make last night their night because the 'Canes came out loaded for bear in the third. During the first 10 minutes of the third period the Hurricanes, who had been outshot in the first two period 23-3, held the Caps to just two shots, they also tied the game 4-4 at 10:47 mark with a "pretty goal" by Nicklas Wallin. Then Cam Ward robbed Boyd Gordon to keep the game tied up. The Caps played their system and disciplined hockey during the first 40 minutes of the evening and then somehow got broken down for much of the third period, which Carolina dominated. Regulation play ended with the score tied 4-4 and during the third period each team had just 6 shots on goal.
Overtime ensued and the Capitals looked pretty solid until the 1:17 mark hen Tom Poti was whistled off for what at least some watching (e.g. me) felt was a relatively weak hooking call. To be fair the call was valid but since the referees basically had put their whistles away for the entire third period, the call seemed incongruous with the way the game had been called for the prior ~21:00 of play. The Hurricanes used the man advantage to get off five good shots and at least 4 solid scoring chances but Jose Theodore stood firm and held the 'Canes off the board. The Caps did manage one good scoring chance after they returned to even strength which Cam Ward stopped.
That took the game into the shootout aka "Bettman's Gimmick". When it comes to the shootout, that is one area here virtually everyone who knows their statistics would rather have Jose Theodore in net than Cam Ward. Last night was no exception. The Capitals went first and Ward stopped Viktor Kozlov's backhand; then Theodore stopped Toumo Ruutu's wrist shot. (Remember Toumo is the Ruutu who DIDN'T bite anyone in the league's ear - at least not yet.) Next up came Alexander Semin. (Semin was red hot last night notching a goal and 3 assists in regulation - he was also the only skater to get back after the failed 5-1 breakaway in the second period to help Jose Theodore on the ensuing breakout by Rayan Whitney and Eric Staal that resulted in Staal's 33rd goal of the season). "The Other Alex" played the shootout masterfully and put a blazing fast wristshot past Cam Ward's left shoulder and top shelf into the net. Jose Theodore then stopped a wrist shot attempt by Carolina's Jussi Jokinen by breaking up the scoring attempt with a pokecheck. Next up "The Great Eight" who had scored his 49th goal of the season during regulation. Ovechekin came in on Ward fast and blasted a wrist shot that just squeaked through the Carolina netminder's "five hole" to end the game.
Alexander Semin was credited with both the game winner and also given the first star of the game. Semin had 21:33 TOI on 23 shifts; 6 SOG, 1 attempt blocked and 1 missed shot 1 goal and 3 assists as well as the game winner in the shootout. All in all another very solid night against the Hurricanes.
Erik Cole was given the second star of the game. Cole had a goal and an assist in 21:34 TOI; he also was credited with 3 hits.
Nicklas Backstrom was given the third star of the game. Backstrom had a goal and an assist in 22:07 TOI; perhaps more notably he went 12 for 21 in the faceoff circle; a 57% win percentage including several wins against Carolina faceoff "ace" Rod Brin D'Amor.
Overall, it was a solid night for the Capitals even though the third period was somewhat disappointing. In the recent past at least the Caps would have generally had a let down after a victory like the one on Thursday against the Flyers. Last night that rally didn't happen. The Caps came out in the first period ready to play and focused on trying to overtake New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference. That didn't happen, in large part because of yet another solid night by Martin Brodeur up in Montreal to capture his 551st all time win and tie Patrick Roy's record. Through the fact that power play goals don't help +/- statistics and the Caps scored 3 of their 4 goals on the power play while Carolina earned all four of their goals at even strength it was a "bad night" for the Capitals from a +/- perspective. However ask the Hurricanes if they'd trade their +16 for the Caps -15 and the extra point the Capitals earned, and without a doubt to a man they'd say YES.
Elsewhere around the league, if you follow James Mirtle's logic and forecast for the playoffs last night the Phoenix Coyotes were basically eliminated from the playoffs while the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs managed to "stay alive", though improbable in their quests for the post season. Phoenix now has the possibility of a maximum of 88 points with the likely need for 90 to gain a berth in the Western Conference. Both Toronto and Ottawa need to continue to "win out" their remaining 12 and 14 games of the season respectively to gain the projected 93 points required to gain a berth in the Eastern Conference. Both Florida and Pittsburgh managed to capture a point yesterday while Montreal and the Rangers lost in regulation so in the Eastern Conference you still have six teams who are fighting for the final four playoff berths within a range of four points. Boston, New Jersey, Washington and Philadelphia all won their games so the top of the standings and point separations remained unchanged. The Caps remain just one point behind the Devils but the Devils have two games in hand.
Well once again last night on Hockey Night in Canada between games Don Cherry made Alexander Ovechkin's goal celebrations, or perhaps it was Don Cherry's sense of self importance, a video feature. Not surprisingly, once again, Don Cherry got it all wrong. First let me be very clear, I have never had the opportunity to speak to Alexander Ovechkin about anything, and if I did get the opportunity to do so between the fawning and thanking him for being so fun to watch when he plays from our seats at Section 103 at the Phone Booth, I am positive Don Cherry wouldn't even be a subject of any resultant conversation. That said, I'm pretty willing to bet most anything I have, within reason, that like Ovechkin has gone on record as saying, he doesn't even think about Don Cherry. So I'll remain totally positively convinced that any tempering of Ovechkin's celebrations over the past week or so HAS NOT been the result o Ovechkin listening to Don Cherry or even to any monitoring he or "his people" might be doing of the resultant "hub-bub" about it. If I had to guess it's probably because of two things - 1) over the past week the Caps have all decided to get focused on "The Goal" and attainment of that goal is now 28 - 40 games away and 2) it's now truly "playoff push" time and Capitals' games over the past week have pretty much been against teams who they will face at least once more this regular season or may well face in the playoffs, if those current "bubble teams" (Pittsburgh and Nashville make the playoffs, so why give them something that they may use to motivate themselves with next time?
In any case last night from the recliner in Bristow I concluded five things were still true:
1) My wife is a darn good cook - Saturday dinner was a simple straightforward great, home-cooked meal, Thank You dear.
2) Verizon Center remains a tough place for opposing teams to walk away with even a point, Carolina played a very solid game, especially the third period and still if not for Cam Ward robbing Boyd Gordon in the third would have walked away empty handed.
3) Alexander Semin is an awesomely super-skilled hockey player.
4) Kieth Aucoin deserves to play in the NHL just like he did when the Capitals picked him up last season from the Hurricanes and there still isn't room on the Caps roster for him when everyone is healthy.
And perhaps least surprisingly:
5) Don Cherry is still and will always remain a total tool.
DON CHERRY = BIG OLD TOOL.
Next up the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena in Atlanta tomorrow night.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!