Tuesday Night’s tilt in Nashville felt more like Tuesday Night at the Fights. The old adage my Grandfather used to use when we’d leave the Capital Center after a Caps-Flyers contest was fitting: “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” Aside from the fights though, this game was a tough fought, tight match until Sergei Federov scored the 15th overtime game winner of his illustrious career – tied with Patrick Elias, Jaromir Jagr and Mats Sundin for the all-time lead in that category – giving the embattled Capitals a much needed win. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak, the first of Bruce Boudreau’s young NHL career.
It didn’t look good for the Red, White and Blue early in the contest. Just 50 seconds into the game, Ryan Suter put one in the back of the net, beating Jose Theodore on a wrister from just inside the blue line.
Then, about seven minutes later, all hell started to break loose. It started when Jordin Tootoo leveled Donald Brashear along the side boards. Brashear hit Tootoo, and then Matt Bradley took a run at him. At the 12:27 mark, Brashear went after Wade Belak and the two dropped the gloves. The two went toe-to-toe for a few seconds, and then for the first time I can remember since Brash joined the Capitals, he took a left to the chin and crumpled to the ice. Brash left the game with a sprained knee suffered during his collapse.
Three seconds later, Matt Bradley and Jordin Tootoo threw down just after the face-off to start play after the Brash-Belak bout. This one didn’t end much better for the Caps. Brads sustained a cut over his nose from a Tootoo head… or is it helmet butt. The right winger left the ice in a bloody mess.
At the end of the first period, the Caps found themselves down 3-0 — one on the score sheet and two in the fight card. It didn’t help that the Pred’s netminder Dan Ellis was standing on his head and Washington continued the pattern of missing the net or hitting a defender on every other shot that has contributed mightily to their recent skid.
The second period started out slow, but after the first minute or so, they started to get it together. Around the 4 minute mark, Wade Belak decided 1 5-minute major for fighting wasn’t enough, as he took on Caps big man John Erskine. This time, Erskine held his own (only his second fight of the entire season), fighting to a draw. This ended the boxing portion of the evening, and even though the Caps found themselves short-staffed and holding a record of 0-2-1 after their three bouts, the team really seemed to pull together after that.
Ellis continued his stellar play, but Backstrom put Washington on the score sheet late in the second with a beautiful follow-up on the rebound in front. The play started when Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov skated down the right side, while Ovechkin streaked down the left. Kozlov pulled up at the top of the circle and fired a beautiful cross-ice pass to Ovie, who had pulled up at the top of the slot on the left. While this was happening, Backstrom continued driving to the front of the net. Ovie fired a wrister, and Ellis gave up the rebound right on to Backstrom’s stick for the easy put-away.
The third period was more of the same, highlighted by great goaltending and physical play. The only excitement came late in the period, just after a Caps power play ended. Viktor Kozlov fired a shot on net that bounced off the upper leg of Tomas Fleischmann, who was fighting for position in front of Ellis. Flash’s leg was moving forward when the puck hit him. The play was reviewed and the goal washed out as a kick in. The play was far from cut-and-dry. Yes, Fleischmann’s leg was moving forward, but whether it was a deliberate kick or the product of his fight for position is questionable, particularly given the part of the leg that Kozlov’s shot hit. Unfortunately for the Caps, the call went the other way, setting up Feds’ historic game-winner.
One of the moves Coach Boudreau makes in overtime that I absolutely love is the insertion of Sergei Federov as a Forward-Defenseman. He is far from a liability in his own zone, and gives the Caps an extra forward in the offensive zone. This worked out brilliantly for the Caps last night.
Once again, Viktor Kozlov was the catalyst. Kozlov brought the puck into the offensive zone and passed cross-rink to Semin on the right side. Semin skated into the corner, and then passed back to Kozlov in the slot. Koz put the puck on the stick of Feds in front, who deked to the right past Dan Ellis and put the back hand into an empty net.
It took two beautiful goals and two ugly fights, but the Caps ended their losing ways. It’s better to slump in early March than late April, I guess. Hopefully, this will get the Caps back in their winning ways heading into the post-season.