- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

When Alex Ovechkin snapped his streak of five games without a goal to tie yesterday’s contest against New Jersey midway through the third period, the Washington Capitals thought an improbable two-game sweep of the Devils was possible.

Thirty-five seconds later Brian Pothier was whistled for a questionable tripping penalty, and 16 seconds after that, the Devils scored a power-play goal and held on for a 3-2 victory at Verizon Center.

New Jersey right wing Michael Rupp drove toward the net and was knocked down by a diving Pothier, but it appeared his stick connected with the puck and not Rupp’s skates.

“It is obviously the ref’s call, but I had a pretty good view on it,” Pothier said. “I felt like I got the full puck, but obviously he didn’t. … It was a huge call, an enormous call. [Referee Francois St-Laurent] felt it was the right call. I didn’t agree with it, but it is what it is.”

A few seconds later Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski wound up from the center of the ice at the blue line and broke his stick on a slap shot that reached Caps goalie Brent Johnson. The rebound squirted into the slot, and Jamie Langenbrunner’s wrist shot fluttered off Johnson’s right shoulder and into the net with 9:56 left in the third.

Devils center Scott Gomez was also in the net, but Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn had cross-checked him into it.

“Everyone here is saying [Pothier] got all puck,” Johnson said. “It’s a tough one. Then they go out and get a crazy bounce where the guy fans on it and it goes over. I’m looking like it is going over the net, and it’s right back in there.

“It was deflating.”

The Caps, who ended a six-game losing streak to the Devils 24 hours earlier in East Rutherford, N.J., had only six shots in the third period and mustered few chances after Langenbrunner’s goal.

Ovechkin scored his 35th of the season and second in 11 games with 10:47 left in the final period. He collected a short pass from defenseman Jeff Schultz and skated down the left side of the ice before unleashing a wrist shot that glanced off New Jersey goaltender Scott Clemmensen’s mask — putting a dent in the cage — before landing in the net.

“It was good shot, and I got it — finally,” Ovechkin said. “I think it was good goal for us, but next shift we have penalty and they score goal.”

Ovechkin tried to convince the officials he had scored with 2:49 left in the first period. He spun around a defender in front of the net and then crashed into Clemmensen. The puck bounced into the air and replays showed Ovechkin batted the puck into the net with his arm as his momentum pushed Clemmensen into the net and knocked it off the moorings, but it was waved off by an official.

Alexander Semin had four shots in 14:57 of ice time but did not play in the game’s final eight minutes and took one full shift and one abbreviated one in the final 10. Semin nearly scored on a wraparound attempt after an end-to-end rush that featured some of his stickhandling wizardry a few minutes before his final time on the ice.

Caps coach Glen Hanlon said Semin’s absence in the third was neither injury nor equipment related.

“I felt that going down after the goal there, that the groups that we played, I had a good feel for the rest of the guys,” Hanlon said. “I felt that they were going to get it done. I just didn’t feel Sasha [Semin] was going to score a goal tonight at the end there.”

Brooks Laich, playing left wing on the fourth line because of injuries to Chris Clark and Eric Fehr, scored the game’s first goal with 3:58 left in the first period. It was his seventh of the season.

New Jersey’s top line was without right wing Brian Gionta for the second straight day because of a back injury, but the team’s second unit made up for his absence.

Zach Parise and Travis Zajac each tallied a goal and an assist, and along with Langenbrunner, the group seemed to create an offensive opportunity on every shift.

Clemmensen stopped 23 of 25 shots and recorded his first win of the season. It was only his third start of the season in place of Martin Brodeur and his fourth appearance.

“Obviously it’s no secret he doesn’t get out there very often,” Langenbrunner said. “But he stepped up and played a great game today. He made some huge saves, and he really kept us in there early on.”

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