- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2008

After months of chasing the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals finally caught them Wednesday.

Last night the Hurricanes proved they weren’t too happy about relinquishing the Southeast Division lead. Cam Ward stopped 33 shots and Carolina moved back ahead of the Caps with a 2-1 win at Verizon Center.

Carolina had the NHL’s worst penalty-killing proficiency coming into the game at 77 percent, and the Caps had ample opportunities with the man advantage. Seven times Washington went on the power play, and seven times the Caps were rebuffed.

“You have to make teams pay if they are going to take that many penalties against you and we didn’t,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s been a recurring problem the last few games. … It is something we’ve tried to address many times. When you’ve got skilled players, they always think they can make the cute play.”

The best chance was a 5-on-3 for 1:10 early in the second period, but the Caps gave up as many shots (one) as they took in the Carolina zone. After the Hurricanes regained a man, center Eric Staal nearly scored 4-on-5 but put a shot off the crossbar.

The power-play ineptitude elicited the loudest chorus of boos directed at the home team since before the coaching change. Washington has only one extra-man goal in its past eight games — a span of 24 chances.

“We’re not moving the puck well and we’re not creating the openings to shoot the puck,” said defenseman Mike Green, who logged a career-high 32:04 of ice time. “Basically we were just passing it around the perimeter and getting nothing done.”

After nearly 50 minutes of offensive struggles, Alexander Semin solved Ward.

Semin circled the offensive zone with the puck before his first shot from near the right faceoff circle was blocked. Undaunted, he collected the puck and slid it between the goalie’s legs with a backhanded shot 9:54 into the final period for his 14th goal of the season.

But Semin also took a slashing penalty with 28 seconds left, while the Caps skated 6-on-5 and pushed to tie.

“It was a great individual effort, but he also took a pretty selfish penalty,” Boudreau said. “He’s a very skilled player, but he’s got to learn. He’s very young, but he’s got to learn you can’t do that stuff, taking those penalties.”

If it wasn’t clear there was a lot at stake last night before the game, two fights in the opening six minutes was a good indicator. Matt Bradley and Scott Walker dropped the gloves 37 seconds in after Walker’s hit on Washington forward Quintin Laing.

John Erskine and Wade Brookbank got tangled up along the boards and went at it a little less than five minutes later. Erskine did not return after the fight and a team spokesman said he is day-to-day and his availability for tomorrow’s game against the Rangers is in question. Boudreau said Erskine was not feeling well.

“I think mentally we wanted to be ready and we knew how important the game was, but we haven’t played a game of this magnitude in the long time,” Green said. “Next time we’re up in the situation, we’ll be ready.”

Caps goaltender Brent Johnson made 21 saves in his sixth start in 12 games, but the Hurricanes struck twice in their first four attempts on net.

Erik Cole put Carolina on the board first with a fantastic couple of moves.

He skated around Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina and then moving right to left, reached back with one hand on his stick to push the puck past a sprawling Johnson 3:56 into the opening period.

Andrew Ladd made it 2-0 at the 14:47 mark of the period. Sergei Samsonov took a shot from the right circle on a 3-on-2 and the rebound kicked out the left to Ladd for an easy rebound.

“[The Hurricanes] have great experience, they came out with great energy and they were a real determined team,” Boudreau said. “They’re a good team, but this shows what the last remaining games are going to be like.”

Last night at Verizon Center


34 Games it took Bruce Boudreau to win 20 (20-10-4), which eclipses Terry Murray’s 38 games for the fastest in team history.


Alex Ovechkin has led the league in goals, points, shots and power play markers for varying amounts of time, but he added a new category during the past road trip — game-winning goals. By collecting the winner in each of the two games during the trip, Ovechkin now has eight for the season — one more than Dallas’ Niklas Hagman and New Jersey’s Patrick Elias.Ovechkin had 32 goals in the 34 games before last night since Boudreau took over, which would tie him for fifth in the league even without his first 21 games playing for Glen Hanlon.

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