- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau called Saturday night “a great test,” and his team responded with its best performance of the season.

Buoyed by a superior performance in the first period and another strong night from goaltender Brent Johnson, the Caps defeated the conference-leading New York Rangers 3-1 in front of 17,948 at Verizon Center.

“We put so much pressure on them in all ends of the ice. We were all over them,” Johnson said. “[The win] was huge. It was a great game against a team that is an excellent, excellent team.”

Johnson continued his string of solid performances in net for the Caps, making 28 saves in his third straight start. Johnson has turned aside 145 of 154 shots (a .942 save percentage) in his past five appearances.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will be here Monday, which would give Johnson the opportunity to start against friend and former teammate Olie Kolzig.

“Today he was [our No. 1 goalie],” Boudreau said of Johnson. “He might be Monday again, but Wednesday we might have a different No. 1. I’m not into these goalie controversies. If you’re playing good, you’re playing good.”

Added Johnson: “If Coach says Jose [Theodore] is playing on Monday or myself, let’s just go at it and try to get another win.”

At practice Friday, Boudreau said that sometimes it takes a fortunate bounce to beat the world’s best goaltenders, and his team got a few in one sequence midway through the first period. Alexander Semin’s wrist shot missed high, but the puck caromed off the glass, the crossbar, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s mask before Brooks Laich knocked it out of midair and into the net for a 1-0 lead 9:14 into the period.

Tom Poti gave the Caps a two-goal lead late in the period on another atypical situation. Boyd Gordon got around Rangers defenseman Dmitri Kalinin and nearly crashed into Lundqvist at the left post. Gordon never got a shot off, but the puck squirted to the right, and Poti was there to backhand it in.

Both first-period goals were subject to lengthy reviews. The second one was allowed despite the net coming off its moorings because it was determined that Lundqvist knocked it free with his right skate.

While the Caps allowed a goal in the first three shots on net in six of their first 12 games, they were dominant in the first 20 minutes against the Rangers.

“The big thing we can take from tonight was the first period,” Poti said. “We came to play, and we were ready. It is something we can be proud of because we haven’t had the best starts lately. The first period got us the win tonight.”

The Rangers cut the lead in half with a power-play goal 6:27 into the final period. Aaron Voros took a pass from Brandon Dubinsky and put a shot through Johnson’s legs that was redirected by Poti’s outstretched stick.

It was the sixth of the season for Voros, who had seven goals and 141 penalty minutes in his rookie season last year with Minnesota.

New York had a great chance to even the score midway through the third. After a turnover by Poti near the defensive blue line, Chris Drury got behind Alex Ovechkin and was awarded a penalty shot when he was hooked and couldn’t get a shot off.

Drury tried to go to his backhand on the penalty shot, but Johnson reached out with one hand on his stick and poked the puck away.

“[Johnson] is playing really well,” Poti said. “He’s on right now. He’s seeing all the pucks, and making some big saves for us. He’s a big part of why we’re winning.”

Semin took a tripping penalty with 2:15 remaining in the contest, but the Caps killed off the infraction, and he punctuated the victory by firing a rocket into the empty net from deep in the defensive zone with six seconds left. It was his team-best 11th marker of the season.

The Rangers entered the contest atop the Eastern Conference with 23 points, but they had also played 10 of their first 14 contests on this continent at Madison Square Garden. Washington is fashioning its own hot start on home ice. The Caps are 5-0-1 at Verizon Center this year and 11-0-1 dating to last season.

“We want to create an identity that it is difficult to play against the Capitals in our building,” Boudreau said. “We’ve started off that way. According to our plan, it is working.”

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