WASHINGTON (AP) - A rat falling out of the arena hallway ceiling during the Carolina Hurricanes’ warmup game of soccer was just a precursor to a wacky afternoon of playoff hockey.
Long after the dead rodent was removed, Game 2 between the Hurricanes and Washington Capitals included a questionable ejection for a check to the head, a shot off one goalie’s mask and another that went in off the other goalie’s backside. It fittingly ended with an overtime goal from an unlikely source that sent the defending Stanley Cup champions into a wild celebration around the team’s most popular player.
Veteran leader Brooks Orpik scored 1:48 into overtime Saturday to give Washington a 4-3 victory and a 2-0 lead over Carolina in the first-round series. His fourth goal in his 151st playoff game was his third winner, and Orpik became just the 11th defenseman in NHL history with two postseason overtime goals.
“I’m probably not counted on for too many goals, but I think if you want to have the long runs, you need everybody kind of chipping in and doing things they don’t normally do,” Orpik said. “Always feels good when the team comes out on top.”
The Capitals came out on top thanks to Alex Ovechkin’s two perfect passes, a 5-on-3 penalty kill and a stick shortage by Carolina that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Orpik for his goal. Afterward, owner Ted Leonsis quipped, “Just like it was drawn up.”
There was no way to script the strange happenings that unfolded on and off the ice. Perhaps it was an omen for things to come when the ball used in the Hurricanes’ pregame soccer ritual knocked a rat down from the ceiling.
“I saw that,” Carolina’s Sebastian Aho said. “First time I’ve seen it. Kind of odd.”
Then the game happened. Just like Game 1, the Capitals jumped out to an early 2-0 lead - this time on goals by Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie - but this time the Hurricanes didn’t wait until the third period to come back.
Lucas Wallmark scored late in the first after teammate Saku Maenalanen brushed Braden Holtby, which Capitals coach Todd Reirden challenged for goaltender interference. It held up because the NHL situation room and referees determined the contact wasn’t significant enough to disallow the goal.
“Playing the position, you know that that’s interference,” said Holtby, who made 25 saves. “But there’s a point in hockey where you’ve just got to battle, too. I’m not going to complain about a call or no-call. I know that doing that is giving me the best chance to stop that puck. We move on.”
Things only got stranger in the second period. Less than a minute after exiting the penalty box, Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland hit Nic Dowd while bent over and was given a five-minute match penalty for an illegal check to the head and ejected.
After officials conferred and decided to make it a five-minute major, coach Rod Brind’Amour screamed at referee Steve Kozari that it was a clean hit, pointing to his hip to emphasize Ferland made mostly hip to shoulder contact. Dowd left to go through concussion protocol but returned.
“To be honest with you, I let up,” said Ferland, who added he doesn’t expect to be suspended. “I could have finished with my shoulder, but I didn’t. I came, hit him with my butt. I thought it was a clean hit. I don’t agree with the call.”
During the ensuing power play, a one-timer from defenseman John Carlson hit Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek on the right side of his mask and knocked it off. Mrazek winced in pain but did not get pulled for concussion protocol and stayed in the game.
“It caught me a little bit on the chin there,” said Mrazek, who made 29 saves. “When I fell, I didn’t have the mask on and I hit the ice pretty hard with my face. That was the worst.”
The worst moment for Holtby came when Aho ended a 15-game goal drought by banking the puck off him from a bad angle. Wilson and Jordan Staal traded third-period goals, and Mrazek stopped Carlson in the final seconds of regulation.
That only set the stage for Orpik’s heroics. After Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce lost his stick and got one from forward Teuvo Teravainen, the Capitals had the opening they needed to take a 2-0 series lead and players mobbed Orpik to celebrate the father figure’s clutch goal.
“There’s really no better guy to score an OT winner,” Wilson said. “We were pumped up, and he deserves it. Huge goal for us.”
NOTES: Ten of the Capitals’ last 14 first-round games went to overtime. … With his 101st playoff point, Backstrom moved ahead of Daniel Alfredsson into sole possession of fourth place among Swedish players. … Hurricanes D Calvin de Haan missed his fifth game in a row with an upper-body injury. … Maenalanen replaced Greg McKegg in Carolina’s lineup. … Capitals C Lars Eller played after missing practice Friday for upper-body maintenance.
Game 3 Monday night in Raleigh is the Hurricanes’ first home playoff game since May 26, 2009.
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