Cap­i­tals end scor­ing drought, then pull away late in game

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY KATIE CAR­RERA

For weeks now, goal scor­ing for the Washington Cap­i­tals has been any­thing but au­to­matic. Whether at even strength, on the power play or from some of the most ef­fec­tive of­fen­sive play­ers in the world, find­ing ways to put the puck over the goal line seemed to grow more dif­fi­cult the more time passed.

In the third pe­riod against the Florida Pan­thers on Satur­day at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter, Washington got two kinds of goals that have been hard to come by lately: one on the power play and a game-win­ner by Alex Ovechkin — a trade­mark break­away tally— to clinch a 3-2 win. The win gave the Cap­i­tals 54 points, keep­ing them one be­hind Tampa Bay in the race for the South­east Di­vi­sion lead, and marked their sixth vic­tory in eight con­tests.

“Just to get the lead in the third pe­riod was like a breath of fresh air,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It seems when you come off of a shutout it seems you’re never go­ing to score and ev­ery goal you get is such a dif­fi­cult goal. . . . You’re won­der­ing if you’re ever go­ing to score again.”

Through the open­ing 20 min­utes, though, it didn’t look like the Cap­i­tals would have any bet­ter luck find­ing the net than they did in their pre­vi­ous out­ing, a 1-0 over­time loss to the Light­ning. Al­though they were fac­ing a Florida squad play­ing its fifth game in seven

nights and the sec­ond of backto-back out­ings, the Cap­i­tals ap­peared out of sync.

The Pan­thers didn’t demon­strate much more flow in their game, but man­aged to weather an ear­lyWash­ing­ton power play as the Cap­i­tals couldn’t muster a sin­gle shot and then took a 1-0 lead just un­der four min­utes into the con­test on a goal by Mike San­torelli.

Whether it was the lack of rhythm with new line com­bi­na­tions at the start or the build­ing pres­sure to score, the Cap­i­tals’ first pe­riod was pre­dom­i­nantly sloppy, filled with er­rant passes and few scor­ing chances. As the con­test ad­vanced into the sec­ond pe­riod, with the Cap­i­tals still trail­ing by a goal and strug­gling to cre­ate qual­ity op­por­tu­ni­ties against Pan­thers goal­tender Scott Clem­mensen, the me­mory of their most re­cent tally — the third goal in the Win­ter Clas­sic on Jan. 1 — grew more dis­tant.

“I just said, quite frankly, ... we’re not forecheck­ing at all. We’re get­ting in and we’re wor­ry­ing about be­ing in po­si­tion and sys­tems, but if we don’t go and put pres­sure on them noth­ing’s go­ing to hap­pen,” Boudreau said of his com­ments to the play­ers in the first in­ter­mis­sion. “We have to be bet­ter. I think we’re too good to be this medi­ocre.”

The Cap­i­tals fi­nally broke through. Af­ter 96 min­utes and 27 sec­onds of play with­out scor­ing a goal, Eric Fehr knocked the puck home from in front of the net af­ter a stuffed wrap­around try by Mike Green to tie the score at 1 with 5:34 elapsed in the sec­ond. It marked Fehr’s sixth point in six games as the right wing recorded three con­sec­u­tive goals for the Cap­i­tals dat­ing back to the Win­ter Clas­sic. “I was just go­ing to the front of the net with my stick down hop­ing there’d be a re­bound or any­thing,” Fehr said. “Luck­ily he put it right on my stick.”

Washington con­tin­ued to build mo­men­tum and grow an ad­van­tage in en­ergy against the Pan­thers, but it would have to face the third pe­riod with­out winger Alexan­der Semin. With 4:34 re­main­ing in the sec­ond pe­riod, Florida’s Steve Bernier hit Semin hip-on-thigh, ac­cord­ing to Boudreau, and sent the Cap­i­tals for­ward tum­bling to the ice. Semin re­turned for one shift at the end of the frame but didn’t come back out to the bench at the start of the third and was listed as day to day af­ter the game.

The Cap­i­tals were pre­sented with what would be their fi­nal power play chance of the game mid-way through the third when Jay Bea­gle drewa trip­ping penalty onMichael Fro­lik and it would be a con­nec­tion by Fehr and Green to put Washington on the score­board again. Fehr car­ried the puck from the right boards into the mid­dle, found Green skat­ing to the front of the net and the de­fense­man back­handed a shot that beat Clem­mensen stick side for a 2-1 edge. The goal came im­me­di­ately af­ter Washington killed a penalty of their own, the Cap­i­tals’ 27th con­sec­u­tive short­handed sit­u­a­tion thwarted and 33rd out of 34 in the past nine games, and shifted the bal­ance of the con­test to the Cap­i­tals.

“I think that’s why we’ve had such close games is our power play’s been strug­gling,” Green said. “I think in the past when we get one on the power play then we’ll get one from our third or fourth line and we’ll have three or four goals. With­out the power play go­ing we’re strug­gling to win games.”

The fi­nal flour­ish would be Ovechkin’s goal scored on a break­away cre­ated by an out­let pass from Mike Knu­ble. Ovechkin had a step on Florida de­fense­man Bryan McCabe and even though he was tripped en route to the net, fired a shot while fall­ing down that found its tar­get. It was Ovechkin’s 15th goal of the sea­son.

“I al­ways took it to heart,” Ovechkin said of the pres­sure to score goals. “My num­bers are not as good or where they’re sup­posed to be but it’s the mid­dle of the sea­son and there are 40 games left. We’ll see what’s go­ing to hap­pen at the end of the year.”

JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

Alex Ovechkin kicks up his heels af­ter scor­ing a break­away game-win­ner in the third pe­riod.

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