WASHINGTON, DC — Before a crazed, capacity crowd at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals finally found a lead they could hold onto, as defenseman Mike Green scored a power play goal at 2:24 of overtime to hand the Carolina Hurricanes their second loss of the season in as many nights.
The Capitals have won their last 10 home openers. They did so Saturday night in front of 18,506 red-clad devotees, the Caps’ 107th consecutive sellout.
The Capitals led this game at 2-1 and 3-2, only to see it tied again on both occasions. The ‘Canes tallied with 1:19 remaining in the third period to force overtime, less than two minutes after Brooks Laich banged home an Alex Ovechkin shot off the back boards for their first power play goal.
The second power play goal — the game-winner by Green on his only shot on goal – came with the Caps playing 4-on-3 in the overtime. Dennis Wideman fumbled a pass from Green a bit, which drew Carolina forward Tim Brent to the center of the ice. Wideman quickly recovered and found Green, all alone now, just above the right circle. His blast deflected off a shin pad and trickled through goalie Brian Boucher (32 saves on 36 shots) and the building erupted.
“Well, I saw the guy scoot over to Wides [Dennis Wideman] and I knew that I had a lot of time to shoot the puck, I just had to find a spot,” Green explained. “It kind of went off a guy’s shin pad and snuck through, but I just had to get the shot off.”
Green also spoke to the intensity of the opening night game in a frenzied arena. “I think we started a little bit slow,” he said. “It seemed like we were a little bit nervous, I think that is because we were in our own building. Once we settled down and we started finishing our checks and getting on the forecheck, we tired them out and I felt that paid off in overtime.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau echoed Green’s thoughts about the team perhaps playing with a little bit of nerves early, which resulted in a sloppy first period where the Capitals were outshot by their opponent. “I wouldn’t doubt it,” Boudreau said. ” They were all asking me about nerves. It was the first game – the crowd’s into it, there are a lot of new guys. Nerves were there. It’s like the first day on the job and going into the office. You’re nervous. Whether you’re a 20-year veteran on the job or just brand new.”
So was Boudreau nervous after the ‘Canes pulled things even so late in the game? “I said ‘we’ll get another one, don’t worry guys.’ We’ve come back many times. A lot of these guys we’ve had before, and I think we came back the second most in the NHL last year in the third period to win games.”
The Caps’ most effective line Saturday night was the third line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Joel ward, often playing against the Hurricanes’ top line, featuring Eric Staal (two power play goals and an assist).
Chimera, who scored on a breakaway on a fantastic pass from Ward, thought the line’s size played a big part of its effectiveness in this matchup. “We thought we did a great job, we are three big guys who try and keep the puck down low and create some chances for ourselves. We had some good chances, we felt good tonight. We played really good together and we never gave up much on five-on-five, so that’s good.”
One Capital who didn’t have a great game, despite springing Alexander Semin for one of the prettier breakaway goals you’ll every want to see, was defenseman John Carlson. He played a direct role in each of Carolina’s goals, sitting in the penalty box for the first two, then getting himself out of position on Jussi Jokinen’s game-tying goal at 18:41 of the third.
Michal Neuvirth was strong in goal, making 28 saves on 31 shots, but was stellar in the overtime, when the Caps were forced to play 3-on-4 for the first two minutes as a result of a boarding call against Semin as time expired, promoting a several minute melee. There was no injury on the play, but Semin could very well find himself missing a couple of games under new NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan’s watchful eye.
It might not have been pretty for the most part. The penalty kill needs some attention. But the power play, which was sluggish to start, tallied twice, and the team didn’t cave in overtime when it would have been easy to after allowing the late, tying goal. And this was all accomplished on an evening when the top line wasn’t particularly effective, with Boudreau describing Alex Ovechkin’s performance, after praising his effort and intensity after his travel and return from Russia for the funeral of his uncle, as “adequate.”
All told, it was a gritty, gutsy two points, against a division opponent. They host another division opponent Monday in the Tampa Bay Lightning, who unceremoniously booted the Caps from the playoffs last season, sweeping them in the second round. No one in the locker room would admit to it being a revenge game, but you can bet the fans in the stands will want to see a little payback.