- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2010

After 40 minutes, the Capitals looked to be firmly in charge, holding a 2-0 lead and outshooting the Dallas Stars 42-16. But a pair of penalties opened the door for the Stars to score three times in the third period to silence the sellout crowd Monday night at Verizon Center as the Stars rallied to win a 4-3 decision in a shootout.

The bright spot for the home crowd was Alexander Ovechkin, who did his part to bring life to his team and the building with a pair of goals, his first in over a month.

The Caps’ star, mired in his longest scoring drought of the season after a disappointing showing in the Vancouver Olympics, connected on his 43rd in the second period to put Washington up by two, and then scored the equalizer with 3:16 to play by notching his 44th of the season to tie Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead in that category.

But Loui Eriksson scored in the fifth round of the shootout for the Stars, snapping Washington’s 13-game winning streak on home ice and handing their first loss since the Olympic break. The Capitals still have collected points in 20 of their last 21 games (17-1-3), but it certainly wasn’t the result Washington wanted after taking a season-high 52 shots on net.

Playing for a desperate Dallas team looking to make the playoffs in the tight Western Conference race, Stars netminder Marty Turco kept his team in the game with a career-best 49-save performance — not to mention making four stops on five shots in the shootout. The opportunistic visitors took advantage of Turco’s solid performance by connecting twice on two power-play chances early in the third period to erase the two-goal deficit in a 4:46 span.

Neal then completed the comeback for the Stars, firing a shot past Semyon Varlamov for the go-ahead goal with 12:07 to play. But Ovechkin delivered one point Washington’s way by muscling his way through two Dallas defensemen and firing the equalizer home to help force the extra session.

“It was all about the win,” Turco said afterwards. “To have a chance in the third period was huge for us. Then for guys to step up on the power play with guys paying the price in front of the net to get those ugly ones. Those are the things that we needed. Hopefully this group, and I believe it is, is smart enough to realize how big this win was, to come back like that against this team [shows] that we can not only play with anybody but win.”

“I thought the entire team had a hiccup in the third period,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think getting 42 shots in two periods - youre not going to get 64 shots in a game. They [Dallas] came on [in the third period] and thought, ‘Hey, were still in the game.’ Once they got the first one in, I knew it was going to be a dog fight.”

Dallas had two good chances to score in the game’s first 132 seconds, but Varlamov made a couple of nice saves to keep the game scoreless.

Those saves gave the Capitals a chance to strike first, and they did just 2:51 into the game, as Tom Poti took a pass from Dave Steckel, moved in alone and fired the puck past Turco for the early tally.

After that, Washington put several more good scoring chances on Turco, with Alex Semin and Ovechkin getting some prime opportunities, but they couldn’t connect. Dallas also got some tip-in chances in front of Varlamov, but they couldn’t quite connect.

Semin and Brooks Laich answered those chances with a nice flurry with seven minutes left in the frame, but despite several shots, they couldn’t get the puck past a sprawled Turco.

Washington outshot the Stars 19-5 after 20 minutes, but Poti’s goal was all they had to show for the efforts.

Ovechkin had another nice chance to end his six-game goalless drought with just over five minutes gone in the second, but couldn’t connect on a prime chance with Turco down.

Varlamov was then tested at the other end, but held on a nice chance by Karlis Skrastins.

Washington finally got the first power-play of the game as Ovechkin was hooked down by Skrastins with a loose puck to the side of the net with 12:17 gone in the period, and then received a huge break when Stephane Robidas cleared a puck over the glass for a 1:25 two-man advantage with the delay-of-game penalty.

Turco made a couple of nice stops with the Stars down two men, but Ovechkin finally broke his drought with 5:23 left in the period for his first goal since recording a hat trick against the Penguins back on Feb. 7, wristing a shot past Turco to give the Caps a 2-0 lead and Ovechkin his 43rd goal on Washington’s 40th shot of the night.

“You could see it,” Boudreau said when asked about if his star was relieved after the goal. “He looked up at the sky, and he had been frustrated the past few games.

“I told him this morning, ‘You just have to work harder.’ I thought he was in a mode where he was waiting for the play to come to him instead of going out and creating the play. But you saw in his first two or three shifts in the game he was going out and hitting guys and he had his energy back. When he has his energy, he is what he is: the best player in the world.”

“It’s not ‘finally’,” Ovechkin said. “I was just happy like I didnt score six games here. Sometimes, you just need some lucky goal. Some lucky bounce to put it in.”

Dallas gave the Caps a chance to put the game away with the power-play to in the period when Steve Ott was called for interference with 2:51 to play in the frame, but the Caps couldn’t convert and Washington stayed up by two after 40 minutes, outshooting Dallas 42-16. But their statistical dominance was undone by a bad start in the third period.

Washington gave Dallas a chance to get on the board 1:02 into the frame when Mike Green was whistled for elbowing Mike Modano, and Brad Richards made the Caps pay just :31 into the extra-man advantage to cut the lead to 2-1, blasting a puck over Varlamov’s shoulder.

The Caps gave the Stars another chance with the extra man when Matt Bradley was whistled for holding 3:45 into the third, and once again, Dallas made them pay. Trevor Daley shot a puck from the point that eluded Varlamov and tied the game with 4:46 gone in the period.

Fueled by the two extra-man tallies, Dallas took the lead with 12:07 left to play when Neal fired a puck past Joe Corvo and Varlamov to give the Stars their first edge of the night.

Varlamov, who seemingly has fallen behind Jose Theodore for the No. 1 goaltender role with three sub-par efforts since returning from injury, certainly had a chance to stop the drive and was on the hook for a very sub-par loss.

As the Caps pressed for offense in the final minutes, Ovechkin hit the post bidding for the equalizer, then was able to connect with 3:16 to play by splitting a pair of Dallas defensemen and beating Turco high to reenergize the home crowd and eventually force the overtime session.

“We knew we were in the game,” Nicklas Backstrom said of the team’s late heroics. “I think were a kind of team that we don’t give up. We always fight until the end we [were] good in the last ten minutes there and it’s too bad we didn’t win in the shootout, but I guess that happens.

Ovechkin nearly got the hat trick just under 90 seconds into overtime, but wasn’t able to beat Turco on Washington’s 50th shot of the night — the highest total of the season. Knuble had another good chance to end the contest with two minutes to play, but Turco held his ground as he ended the 65 minutes with 49 saves as the teams headed for the shootout.

Washington elected to shoot first in the extra session, and Turco denied Ovechkin’s chance to put the Caps up. Varlamov denied Jamie Benn on Dallas’ first shot, and Nicklas Backstrom backhanded a shot over a diving Turco to put Washington up in the shootout. However, Richards notched a backhand of his own to square the shootout at one.

With a chance to go up, Semin appeared to hit a rut in the ice and tumbled, but Varlamov held on to Neal’s attempt.

The shootout headed for sudden-death, and Brooks Laich couldn’t finish a backhand chance of his own to put the Caps up, but Mike Ribeiro got too fancy with the game-winning chance and was poke-checked by Varlamov. Brendan Morrison had his chance to put Washington ahead, but couldn’t put enough mustard on a shot with Turco going down, and Loui Eriksson beat Varlamov for the game-winner.

“We have to learn to believe in each other and trust each other in the defensive zone and I think this team has the players to do it,” Eric Belanger said of the effort. “Theres going to be tight games in the playoffs … We just have to learn from it.”

Washington will look for a better result when their homestand continues Wednesday against a red-hot Carolina club that has won eight of their last nine games, including three of four since the Olympic break.

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