by Kate Shefte
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—The Carolina Hurricanes won their eighth in a row on home ice and third in a row overall against the Washington Capitals, 4-1. This time, Carolina was the tired team, having beaten the Islanders 5-4 at home last night. The Carolina defense came alive in the third to break a 1-1 tie with three goals.
The ‘Canes evened the six-game series against the Caps in the teams’ final regular season meeting, and if the season ended right now, the two teams would be facing each other in the playoffs. More importantly, the Hurricanes gained ground on Florida and Buffalo, which are on the outside looking in, and Montreal in eighth place. All three teams lost tonight.
“We like the way we’ve been playing [Washington],” Eric Staal said. “We’ve got a good group that matches up against them, and it’s fun to play against them.”
It wasn't the prettiest effort by either team. The Capitals came out firing and outshot the ‘Canes 9-3 in the first period. Cam Ward, who is in the midst an iron man streak of his own with 21 straight starts, stood strong early and stopped 31 shots overall.
“I feel great…this is the time of the year you want to be in the net,” Ward said.
Ovechkin fired a shot past Ward, who didn’t even try to make the save, and threw his arms up in celebration for what was supposedly his 51st goal of the season. It wasn’t quite as exciting – or egotistical – as the celebration following his 50th. Click here if you haven’t seen it.
Everyone has weighed in on Ovechkin’s 50th goal celebration, in which he dropped his stick to the ice and mimed as though he was warming his hands by the fire. ‘Canes defenseman Joe Corvo said he hadn’t seen that particular goal celebration in ten years, the last time being a college hockey game between his Western Michigan University and Michigan State.
The Caps fans in the crowd thought it was good as well. But Niclas Backstrom was whistled for hooking on the previous play, so not only was the goal disallowed, but the ‘Canes received a power play. They didn’t record a shot on the man advantage
Rod Brind’Amour and Eric Staal had a modified two-on-one shaken up with ten seconds left in the first period. Both guys were killing off a penalty to Joni Pitkanen, and Brind’Amour somehow managed to find the puck and get past his defender. He wisely tried to find a streaking Staal, but he was well covered and Brind’Amour fired a shot off. It glanced off Jose Theodore’s pads and the buzzer sounded.
Although the ‘Canes were thoroughly outplayed through the first period, the captain looked alive, and sure enough he was the one that struck first. Jussi Jokinen corralled the puck near the boards and sent the puck to Brind’Amour, who snapped a wide shot past Theodore.
Cam Ward coughed the puck up the a Washington player, which led two three excellent rebound chances, including one from AO himself. A three-on-one followed shortly afterward and the puck barely skittered through the goal crease without deflecting off Ward and in.
The Capitals, a team known for its physical play, hammered the ‘Canes into the boards. Tuomo Ruutu and Jokinen both received hits that echoed around the stadium. Corvo and Tim Gleason were given the heady task of containing Ovechkin’s line, a task they performed marvelously.
“He was talking to me, letting me know that he was coming all night, and I let him know that I’d be there,” Corvo said of Ovechkin. “I knew that he would take every chance he got to finish me, and he did.”
The ‘Canes almost made it out of the period with the league, but with 33 seconds remaining, Mike Green got a shot past Ward from the right circle. This time, there would be no disallowed goal, and certainly no ensuing power play.
Rod Brind’Amour was whistled for hooking early in the third and Ovechkin was stuffed on a back door attempt soon afterward. Ward and a healthy portion of luck kept the score tied at one.
14 seconds after the penalty expired, Joni Pitkanen pulled the ‘Canes ahead again. Pitkanen used the exactly the same move Chad LaRose used last night to score his seventh of the season, taking the puck from the left of the crease all the way to the right, waiting until Theodore had his padded but firmly on the ice and then lifting a backhander top shelf. Pitkanen played rather poorly last night, but made up for it against the Caps. Aptly, LaRose received the secondary assist on the goal. Perhaps he dared Pitkanen to copy his moves before they came off the bench?
Jussi Jokinen was called for tapping Tomas Fleischmann but the latter received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for hamming it up. That was arguably Carolina’s best power play of the night, but neither team converted.
Pitkanen’s defense partner and 2008-2009’s buggest surprise, Anton Babchuk, scored an insurance marker with yet another backhandat 13:43. Using my limited lip-reading abilities, it looked as though he said a certain word that rhymes with “duck” and then “applesauce,” but that probably isn’t right. Maybe it was in Russian.
The defense notched three goals and four points tonight, something Maurice naturally had an explanation for.
“I don’t know if we drew it up to have our defensemen standing right in front of the net, but that’s how they saw it,” Mo said. “A lot of that is how the forwards are cycling and taking their spot, so the defense is able to jump forward.”
Brind’Amour joined Pitkanen in the box with a little less than two minutes remaining in the game after he laid out Ovechkin behind Carolina’s net. It was a rather loose interpretation of “boarding,” as Brind’Amour didn’t hit him head-on, but Ovechkin’s face was drilled into the boards and that will almost always result in a call.
The Capitals pulled Theodore while they were on the four-on-three. Corvo cleared the puck out of his own zone and scored by far his strangest goal of the season. Corvo attempted to chip it out from behind the net, but he put a lot of muscle behind it and the puck made a beeline for the empty net. Ovechkin, who was working the point, raced back to get it. He touched the puck just as it tossed the goal line, then smashed his stick in frustration when he returned to the bench. Corvo said he enjoyed watching Ovechkin race back to save the goal, and Carolina fans must have loved it as well.
The ‘Canes will have a huge break – a whole day – off before facing the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. in one of its final three road games of the season. The game carries significant weight in the standings.