After the Caps defeated the Carolina Hurricanes for the fifth straight time this season back on Friday, March 11, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau stated that the “Canes were due to beat them.” On Tuesday night, in a game that meant far more to Carolina’s playoff fate than the Capitals, Boudreau’s words became prophetic but Washington didn’t fall easily, losing in a shootout, 3-2. In fact, Washington carried the play in much of this game but a somewhat soft shot by Jeff Skinner alluded Semyon Varlamov (24 saves) early in the third period to tie this tilt up after the Caps had seized the lead on goals by Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson late in period two. The victory for Carolina pulls them within three points of the Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington now has 99 points (44-22-11) and leads the Tampa Bay Lightning by six points with five games to go (the Bolts have a game in hand). Any combination of points gained by the Caps or points lost by Tampa that adds to six and Washington wins the Southeast Division for the 4th straight season.
Here are the highlights and analysis of a very fast paced and entertaining game:
– Many will be quick to point to the soft goal allowed by Varly and his inability to do well in the shootout as a reason for the loss, but #1 made some very big saves in this contest. He stopped a penalty shot by Skinner in period two and his left pad save on Eric Staal with the game tied in period three was stellar. Varlamov is just not getting much goal support and his squad didn’t tally until 34 minutes into this tilt, this coming off of 60 minutes of Caps scoreless hockey in Ottawa on Friday with the young Russian in the cage. It will be interesting to see what Boudreau does in these last five games with his goaltenders. Varlamov has the only NHL post season experience but Neuvirth is 14 for 14 in the last four years in North American playoff series’ (thanks @JapersRink).
– Alexander Ovechkin and Jason Arnott returned to the lineup on Tuesday night after missing three and six games, respectively. Both showed some rust but also made nice plays with the Great #8 having at least four great chances to win the game in overtime. Ovechkin (5 shots on goal), after playing only 4:53 of time in period one, ended up with 19:20 logged while #44 was -1 in just 14:13 of action. Ovechkin certainly looked totally healthy while Arnott seemed a little off. He also got in a bit of a goal mouth scrum early in the tilt, something the Caps brass likely didn’t want to see happen.
– Oh, Alexander Semin, where to begin? #28 looked so good at times and his wicked top shelf shot from a really bad angle beat Cam Ward (38 saves) to tie the game in the middle stanza. At first I thought it was a bad goal allowed but given Semin’s skill, I am not sure there are any other players in the NHL who could bury it from there. Semin also had an assist on Johansson’s great individual effort and was +2 but his galactically stupid penalty late in regulation nearly cost Washington the game and Boudreau sent #28 a message by not playing him at all in the overtime. The Caps bench boss commented to the media afterwards that he was “Washington’s best offensive player, but again he’s been doing the same thing he’s been doing for five years with the penalty.” (h/t @SkyKerstein of DC’s 106.7, the FAN).
– Perhaps the most important, and also worst news of the night, was an injury to defensemen Dennis Wideman. #6 left in the second period with only 12:42 of ice time total after he went down trying to avoid a hit from Tuomo Ruutu. The Canes forward came barreling in and Wideman went down after being struck up high by #15 in either the upper chest or head. #6 stayed down on the ice for a couple of minutes but then got up under his own power, went to the bench, and then down the runway to the locker room. After the game Boudreau said Wideman was day to day (h/t @TedStarkey of The Washington Times). It will take a major CIA undercover operation to find out the true injury from Washington given how close it is to the NHL post season. Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin were guessing a leg or knee but it could be upper body as well. Given that Mike Green is still not recovered from a concussion, the Capitals cannot afford to lose a player who had recently become their ice time leader on the blue line.
– Johansson scored a dazzling goal that could have been the game winner and the young Swede continues to get better and better. Other teams are obviously starting to respect his speed and #90 is starting to take advantage of that and use his powerful legs and surprisingly strong frame to generate scoring chances. MJ90 now has eight points in his last eight games and he was +2 in 16:52 of ice time in this contest. He does not appear to be hitting any rookie wall at all, he is improving as the season continues on.
– In summary, losing in the gimmick to an extremely desperate team is not a bad thing. The Caps did have some defensive breakdowns and their power play continues to be terrible (0 for 3). They did have Arnott and Wideman on the points with Ovechkin on the half wall on the three attempts but I would much prefer Backstrom be on that first unit rather than Semin, who seems to make the wrong play too often with the man advantage. The penalty kill went four for five with one major bad coverage situation leading to Carolina’s first tally. But the Capitals had several quality chances too, especially at even strength, so Ward deserves a great deal of credit for the Carolina win. All eyes will be on the Washington practice tomorrow and the status of Wideman and then the Caps are back at it at the Verizon Center on Thursday night versus the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 pm.
Notes: John Carlson had an assist and logged a team leading 28:12 of ice time. It was the 19th time this season that #74 has been the team leader in that category…Washington is now 27-0-3 when leading after two periods. They are 26-11-8 in their last 45 games…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-24. Boyd Gordon was 8-5…the referees missed an inadvertent high stick on Karl Alzner against Staal (likely a double minor on the young Capital) and they missed a few other things as well, both ways! Memo to the NHL: Fredick L’Ecuyer probably shouldn’t be officiating NHL playoff games.