FSN SOUTH (TV)—Down a goal, and with their playoff chances hanging in the balance, the Hurricanes took the ice for the third period in Washington last night needing someone to step up and make a play.
The rookie’s seeing-eye shot through a puck-sized gap between Caps netminder Semyon Varlamov and the near post set up Carolina’s 3-2 shootout victory. Combined with Buffalo’s regulation loss to Toronto, the Canes moved to within three points of the Sabres for the final playoff spot in the east with six games remaining, including a Sunday meeting in Raleigh.
“I was just going to dump it in, and then there was sort of a little bit of space there,” Skinner said, describing his decision to extend his shift for an extra rush. “So I just sort of took it in and tried to put it on net. And luckily, it went in.”
Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu also scored in the shootout, Jussi Jokinen netted the other regulation goal, and Cam Ward made 38 saves—giving him over 2,000 saves on the season—to keep Washington from sweeping the six-game season series.
Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson scored in a three-minute span late in the second period for the Capitals, who welcomed forwards Alexander Ovechkin and Jason Arnott back to the lineup. Semyon Varlamov saved 28 shots but stopped only one of three in the shootout.
Ovechkin’s first shot was well off the mark as he returned after a three-game absence. But if last night’s performance is what can be called “rusty” for Ovechkin, the rest of the Eastern Conference should be afraid, as he was a menace the rest of the night. Carolina struggled to keep the same defender on the Russian star, as he swooped and crossed sides with Semin on the rush all evening, dropping passes to each other and driving the net to try to fluster Ward.
And yet, while their linemate Semin tallied a goal and an assist, Ovechkin and Canes-killer Nicklas Backstrom were kept off the score sheet, even failing to beat Ward in the shootout.
Ward was composed throughout, seeing shots through constant traffic and stopping all five pucks that came his way in the overtime period. Carolina did not manage a shot in the abbreviated extra frame.
After a scoreless first period, Jokinen capped an uncharacteristically strong power play early in the second. After a Joe Corvo point shot banged off the boards behind the goal, Ruutu collected the puck and found Jokinen cutting into the slot. The Finn didn’t hesitate with his shot and Varlamov could only watch the puck.
The rest of the second period was an epic trial for Carolina, however. After a power play as poor as the first had been good, Washington repeatedly stormed the Canes’ zone, holding the puck for long periods and generating shots from the circles that tested Ward.
The officiating also seemed to turn against the visitors. No call was made when Eric Staal was badly cut by an errant stick blade. Staal shouted at the officials as he staked off, blood running down his face. As if to apologize, a Joni Pitkanen high stick was ignored moments later.
After Varlamov stoned two terrific shorthanded chances—including a Chad LaRose penalty shot—Ward made his only error of the game, flubbing an attempted clear. Washington collected the loose puck, Semin’s strong skating discarded Staal in the corner, and Semin wristed the puck over Ward’s shoulder from a sharp angle to tie the game with under six minutes left in the period.
The energized Caps continued their push, buoyed by a no-call on Ovechkin’s knockdown of Ruutu well away from the puck after Ruutu checked Dennis Wideman to the ice along the boards. Dustin Bowman’s backcheck kicked the puck directly to Johansson’s stick in the low circle, and he slid it under Ward to give Washington their only lead.
Skinner’s tally not two minutes into the third set up a breathtaking third period. Given a power play in the waning minutes, Carolina’s best chance came when Varlamov fumbled a Pitkanen slap shot. Ruutu jabbed at the puck twice but Varlamov folded around it.
The Caps dominated the four-on-four overtime period, possessing the puck for the first half of the five-minute frame before Carolina could even carry it into the Caps’ zone. Two of John Carlson’s game-high eight shots found Ward’s equipment, and Ovechkin’s burst from the wing with nine seconds left ended up in the goalie’s glove.
Washington deferred to Carolina in the shootout, and Skinner took advantage. Galloping in diagonally, he flicked the puck through Varlamov’s five-hole as the goalie opened to track Skinner’s lateral move.
Ward’s glove deflected Ovechkin’s shot over the goal, Jokinen stickhandled too far in and shot off the post, and Backstrom missed a narrow gap wide after freezing Ward with a deke. Then Ruutu buried the winner, backhanding a shot to Varlamov’s glove side.
Carolina hopes their momentum hopped the plane back to Raleigh with them. They host Montreal tonight, as the Sabres match up with the New York Rangers.