The Washington Times - December 19, 2009, 03:28PM

VANCOUVER — The Washington Capitals don’t often see teams in the Eastern Conference with the combination of defensive structure and physical toughness possessed by the Vancouver Canucks.

While the Canucks did a great job of stifling Alex Ovechkin and the high-scoring Caps, Washington players still felt like they let this one slip away because of an anemic power play.


Mason Raymond scored twice, including on the power play with 6:04 left in the game, and Roberto Luongo withstood a late flurry in a 3-2 victory Friday night at sold-out GM Place.

“Special teams — that was the game tonight,” Brendan Morrison said. “We couldn’t do anything with [the power plays] and they killed them off and got momentum. Then they got a power-play goal to win the game.”

The Caps came to Vancouver with the league’s top extra-man offense, but they managed only one shot on four muddled power-play opportunities. Three times Washington had the man advantage and a 2-1 lead, and three times the Caps failed to put a shot on net.

“There were some times where they were standing us up [at the blue line] and we had a tough time entering the zone or getting possession,” Mike Knuble said. “We had to throw it in and our puck recovery was only so-so. If you’re not recovering pucks, then you are turning around and regrouping all the time.”

Washington scuffled with the extra man, but Vancouver won the game with it. Tom Poti went to the box for cross-checking agitator Alex Burrows, and then earned an extra minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Poti said the official told him it was because he slammed the door too hard in disgust, but he had also made his displeasure with the call known on the ice.

“I didn’t agree with the call at all,” Poti said. “I just kind of bumped him up high. I don’t know how he falls down on that. I thought it was a dive.”

Luongo ignited the game-winning sequence by racing out of his net and paddling a Caps clearing attempt to Raymond at the far blue line. The play caught the Caps in a line change and they were never able to recover.

Raymond skated the puck into the left corner and then sent a great pass out to the top of the zone to Christian Ehroff. He got it to Ryan Kesler, and Raymond swooped into put home Kesler’s rebound at 13:56.

The Caps still had the second Poti minor to kill off, but 21 seconds later Alexander Semin broke in shorthanded and was pulled down by Kevin Bieksa. Semin was awarded a penalty shot, but Luongo stopped the shot with his lower left leg.

“I don’t think we did a good enough job getting traffic to the front — I think [Luongo] saw most of the shots,” Morrison said. “He’s a world-class goaltender and he made a big save when he had to on the penalty shot.”

Kesler put the Canucks on the board first — with an assist from Jeff Schultz. Kesler split the Caps defense and broke in on goaltender Jose Theodore. His shot was denied by Theodore, but Schultz knocked the rebound into the net with his skate at 6:39.

“It just hit my skate and it was an unlucky bounce,” Schultz said. “Maybe I was little too anxious to see what was happening, and it was just an unlucky bounce.”

Semin tied the contest less than three minutes later. Brooks Laich left Semin a drop pass near the Canucks bench — and then Tanner Glass flipped him into it with a big check. Laich was still there when Semin snapped a shot past Roberto Luongo under his left arm from the high slot at 8:47.

Chris Clark gave Washington the lead late in the opening period. Eric Fehr’s shot from just inside the blue line was blocked, but the puck kicked to the left to Clark. His first attempt also failed to reach Luongo, but it came back to him and his second shot caught the goalie out of position at 18:06.

“We played great in the first period, but we got away from our game in the second and third,” Poti said. “We weren’t getting on them and our power play didn’t score tonight. That was the difference.”

Raymond leveled the score at two with the lone tally of the middle period. He carried the puck into the zone on a 2-on-1 and faked a pass that made Shaone Morrison commit to Henrik Sedin before making a move to the middle and putting the puck past a falling Theodore at 17:39.

The Canucks had a 2-on-1 because Mike Green had a great chance from the high slot but put a shot into Luongo’s chest and Tomas Fleischmann was unable to get back in his place.

Washington had a couple of chances late in the game to send it to overtime, but Luongo was there. Ovechkin had no shots on net through 40 minutes and only three for the game. Alan Vigneault matched Kesler, one of the top defensive forwards in the league, and defensemen Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo against Ovechkin’s line for nearly every even-strength shift.

“They close gaps really well, and every time [Ovechkin] touched the puck they went after him,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They did a good job and he couldn’t get away from them tonight