RALEIGH, N.C. — Tomas Vokoun lay on his back on the ice, hurricane siren blaring and red light turning behind his net. The goaltender had done just about everything he could, and it wasn’t nearly enough.
While the Washington Capitals turned in one of the more embarrassing performances of the season in front of him, Vokoun made stop after essential stop. But by late in the second period, the Carolina Hurricanes had broken through twice and were on their way to a 3-0 beating of the Caps at RBC Center on Friday night.
“I think the goals were, there’s not a whole lot he could do on those,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He played really good for us, he moved the puck again just like we need him to do, and he made the saves we need him to make. It was our fault.”
Vokoun has talked about games where he would need to back up his teammates. It was one of those nights, as the Caps struggled to mount any kind of sustained offensive attack, and he made 30 saves.
“We’re happy that he’s making those big saves. It sucks that we couldn’t help him out with any offense whatsoever,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “I think we had maybe one or two shifts in their zone. The rest of the time we were in our zone. He kept us in it tonight. Other than that, he was the only bright part of our game tonight.”
No, instead they played back on their heels with Carolina — last place in the Eastern Conference and 26th in the NHL — pressing and buzzing and forcing Vokoun to fend everything off. He stopped several odd-man rushes and what he calls “Grade-A” scoring chances.
“You try to be perfect, but you’re not going to be every night perfect,” he said. “Tonight was a tough game to play. They had a lot of partial breakaways and breakaways and breakdowns like that. It’s tough to obviously not give up any goals.”
Naturally, there were times where even he couldn’t keep the puck out of his net. In the first period, it was a lazy turnover by John Carlson that led to Carolina’s first. Eric Staal poked the puck away from the young defenseman, and Jussi Jokinen went in all alone and beat Vokoun for a short-handed goal.
The 35-year-old goaltender was helpless. Other times, like when Jeff Skinner carved up Roman Hamrlik and Dmitry Orlov, he was there with a quick save.
Late in the second period, an interference call on Dennis Wideman — a penalty that canceled out another Hurricanes scoring chance — led to a Hurricanes power play and the breaking point. Vokoun couldn’t hold onto a Jay Harrison shot, and Jokinen flipped it past him.
“It’s just tough to give up goal with [17.7] seconds left in the period,” Vokoun said. “It didn’t look like we were going to score a lot of goals. So you’re trying to keep it as close as possible and they score.”
At that point, there was little doubt the game was over. The Caps hadn’t managed to even threaten Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward for much of the night, getting only 22 shots on net for the game. They had some better chances in the third and showed a little bit of energy, but it was far too little and far too late. A Jiri Tlusty goal in the final minute put the finishing touches on the Caps’ demise.
“You can’t win when we don’t score goals. It’s pretty simple math,” Vokoun said. “It’s tough way to lose, especially against a team we should beat. I don’t think we had a good enough effort today to beat them.”
Vokoun was left with a hard-luck loss despite putting in a winning performance. The rest of the Caps could not say the same.
“Vokey played well and kept us in the game for a while there,” Wideman said. “But we just didn’t have it tonight.”
They dropped to 8-13-1 on the road this season, with a visit to the Pittsburgh Penguins looming Sunday.
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