In a two-and-a-half minute span in the third period, the Washington Capitals
turned a tense game into another blowout, defeating the Anaheim Ducks
5-1 at a sold-out Verizon Center.
It's the Caps' eighth win in a row, their longest such streak in 26 years. It's also 11 out of 12 wins since Alex Ovechkin was named captain.
The scoring started early in this one, just 36 seconds in, as Ovechkin banged home a tip pass from Mike Knuble off a shot from the point from Mike Green.
But for the rest of the first period and all of the second Anaheim goalie J.S. Giguere proved up to the task, making save after save on some pretty good scoring chances from the league's leading offense.
In fact, after Duck forward Dan Sexton put back a rebound to knot the game at one in the second period, there were some uneasy feelings among the faithful.
There was a flurry at the end of the second where Giguere robbed Alexander Semin at point blank twice in one minute. There have been games where the Caps might have folded at that point, figuring it just wasn't their night.
Coach Bruce Boudreau was concerned as well. "It might be one of these nights that happens," Boudreau said. "But at the same time, he hadn't played in a long time [Giguere's last start was Jan. 3] and if we keep pressuring him he might tire a little bit in the third period."
"I don't know if [Giguere] did or not, but the wind went out of his sails, I think, after we got the third [goal]."
The sequence of events Boudreau alluded to was an onslaught of shots in a two-and-a-half minute period that changed the complexion of the game.
Just 1:45 into the third, Shaone Morrisonn sent a soft wrist shot toward the goal that deflected off a Anaheim defenseman's skate and between Giguere's pads to break the tie. It was Morrisonn's first goal of the season.
That followed John Erskine's drought-breaking goal last night against the Islanders
Less than a minute later, Ovechkin fed a cutting Mike Knuble, who soccer-kicked the puck to his stick to beat Giguere on a two-on-one.
Semin then got his revenge on Giguere—in spades.
First, he took a long breakout pass form Brooks Laich at the blue line, skated in alone, deked with the forehand, then flipped a backhander over Giguere for his 24th goal of the season. It was a classic "goal scorer's goal."
Later, on a 5-and-3 power play, Nicklas Backstrom saucered a feed across the goal mouth to a waiting Semin just outside the circle, and Semin buried it top shelf, hitting Giguere's water bottle and making it squirt onto the ice.
After that, things got a little testy, and Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle probably wished he hadn't scratched enforcer George Parros for the contest.
Eric Fehr took a poke at Giguere after a save, drawing the ire of Anaheim's Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. All five skaters for each team ended up behind the Anaheim goal line, and in the scrum Fehr, Tom Poti, Perry, and Getzlaf all received four minutes for roughing.
Lost in the fireworks was another quality performance from goalie Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth was pressed into duty because of Jose Theodore's day-to-day lower body injury, and he was up to the task. He stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced, and had no chance on the one he did let up.
The Anaheim goal was really the product of a bad shift by just about everyone on the ice. Other than that, the young netminder showed good movement and excellent rebound control, forcing faceoffs by holding the puck instead of letting it bounce into harm's way.
Boudreau was pleased with his youngster's play. "I thought he was really good. I thought he controlled everything, smothered it and we ended up getting a lot of faceoffs in our zone."
"We're one of the better faceoff teams, so when you have that it's to our advantage."
Defenseman Brian Pothier was effusive in his praise of his goalie. "Neuvy is a special kid. He's really talented, he's real calm, real confident. Early in the game you need your goalie to make some big saves for you. If they score a quick one in the first...it's a different game."
So the juggernaut keeps rolling. Eight wins in a row. 11 out of 12. 62 goals in that span. Someone's got to be the best team in hockey, and it might as well be these Capitals
. At least, they have been for the last couple of weeks.
Washington leads the league with an average of 3.83 goals per game on the season, the most goals per game in the league since 1995-96.
Are we watching a team that's just red-hot right now, playing out of their minds, only to return to earth at some point? Or are we watching a team finally fulfilling all of the expectations that have been heaped and hyped on them since they selected Alex Ovechkin in the draft?
Is today "some day?"
Pothier might have the last word on the subject. He was asked after the game if this is a team just hitting on all cylinders, or does this particular team have more to give?
After pausing a moment to gather his thoughts, he said, "It's nice that when Ovie and Greenie and these guys don't score a ton of goals, that we can still put seven in the net [against the Islanders]. Tonight we get help from guys like Shaone Morrisonn—guys you don't necessarily think of as goal scorers.
"It's a well-rounded team, and everyone's playing really well. It's nice when everyone's playing with confidence and we end up scoring a lot of goals, cause we have some pretty special players."