Brent Johnson made 33 saves on 34 shots and both Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 3-1 win over the Eastern Conference leading Boston Bruins on Wednesday night. The big bad Bruins were 19-4-4 coming into last night’s contest but they ran into a hot Johnny in net and an energized Caps team that got forward Alexander Semin (missed 12 games) and defensemen Tom Poti (missed 6 games) and Tyler Sloan (missed two games) back in the line-up. Defensemen Mike Green and forward Sergei Fedorov continue to be the other big guns that are out due to injury, although Green is reportedly close to returning and may play Friday against Ottawa.
Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau put Semin back on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom and that unit clicked throughout the night generating lots of scoring opportunities. Semin seemed to have some minor timing issues that prevented him from having a huge night and despite a couple of bad giveaways in the third period he looked good and it was nice to have his offensive prowess on the ice. Semin did have an assist on the Great #8’s empty net goal. Boudreau called the line “amazing” in the first period, then said “uh oh, they weren’t that good” on their play in the second period, but said “in the third period when they pulled the goalie and we needed somebody to really battle along the wall, Semin really was committed to getting the puck out and playing defense.”
The game winner came tonight from recent Hershey call up Alexander Giroux. Giroux’s first goal of the season came on a rebound to finish off a great Caps passing play that was started by Michael Nylander on one of his dipsy-do cut back moves (and it seemed to finally work after repeatedly leading to turnovers most of this season). After the cut back move, Nylander fired a cross ice pass to Poti who deftly dropped the puck to Viktor Kozlov for a one timer in the slot that Bruins goalie Manny Fernandez could not control and Giroux was in perfect position at the left side of the net to knock the puck home.
But the story of the night was Johnson who has played very well this season and if not for some nagging injuries, the latest of which is a hip issue, he would probably get more starts. Johnson is bigger than Jose Theodore and covers more net. He also is not giving up many big rebounds, something #60 needs to improve on. I counted at least seven or eight very big stops for Johnny on Wednesday night.
The only goal Johnson gave up for the game he had no chance on as Bruins forward Milan Lucic scored off a great pass by Phil Kessel to cut the Caps lead in half in the last minute of the second period. Poti was the lone defensemen in front of Johnson on that play as a two on one for the Bruins developed when Sloan missed the puck as it went up the boards on a Zdeno Chara dump in.
The win improved the Caps home record to 11-1-1 and overall they are 16-10-3 to lead the Southeast Division by six points over the Carolina Hurricanes, who do have a game in hand.
Notes: Defensemen Bryan Helmer and forward Keith Aucoin were sent back to Hershey before the game. Tomas Fleischmann’s lower body injury resulted in six-foot-four, 217 pound, 20 year old, Oskar Osala being called up from Hershey for his first NHL game. Osala played 11:15 and has a promising future (he is third in the AHL in scoring). He has a good shot, is big, has a knack for the net, and once he improves his skating and matures he should be a mainstay in Washington for years to come. After struggling from the face-off dot in Carolina on Sunday the Caps buried the Bruins, 44-28, on Wednesday night. Defensemen Karl Alzner (also only 20 years old) had another very solid night logging 20:44 of ice time and was plus two for the game. He continues to improve and I just can’t see the Caps sending him back to Hershey unless they run into serious salary cap problems. The Caps scored a power play goal for the ninth straight game. Chara led all players in ice time with 26:50 and he was put on the ice by Boston Coach Claude Julien almost every time the Great #8 took a shift.