Four-Pointer Decided in Four-on-Four – The Caps and the Winnipeg Jets hooked up in a pretty good hockey game on Friday night in Winnipeg. It wasn’t a playoff game, but it had playoff implications and both teams played it that way for the full 60 minutes.
Washington was never able to grab a lead, and that was ultimately the Caps’ undoing as they dropped a tough 3-2 decision to the Jets. The Caps answered Winnipeg strikes twice, but they were unable to draw even after Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien scored what would prove to be the game-winner midway through the third period.
What would stick in the Caps’ collective craw after this one was over was the fact that the Jets got away with a few uncalled penalties on this night, including one on the play that decided a very significant game in the Eastern Conference standings.
With the two teams playing with four skaters a side in the third period, the Caps were under siege in their own end. Winnipeg was working the Capitals down low and Washington was unable to clear and change. Defenseman Karl Alzner broke his stick during the sequence, and center Marcus Johansson passed his lumber to Alzner, but Johansson was then without a stick until he was able to grab one from the bench after several seconds had passed.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg’s Evander Kane took a pass from Byfuglien and skated around with the puck, looking for a play and taking advantage of the extra space. Jets center Alexander Burmistrov was in front of Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun, jostling with Caps defenseman John Carlson. Burmistrov surreptitiously planted his hand firmly on the shaft of Carlson’s stick just as Byfuglien drove hard to the Washington net. Kane curled down low near the goal line to Vokoun’s right and threaded a pass to Byfuglien, who had Alzner draped on him. With Carlson unable to use his stick to defend the pass, Byfuglien chipped the puck in to put the Jets on top for good.
“When [Kane] was coming down the wall,” says Alzner, “[Carlson] was trying to get free so he could block the pass. And Burmistrov was holding his stick, he said probably for about five seconds. That’s why [Carlson] couldn’t block the pass. And then trying to lift Byfuglien's stick, and felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. Couldn’t get it off the ice.”
During Caps coach Dale Hunter’s playing days, he was known for his motto, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” For that reason, Hunter might have been the only one on the Washington side with a unique appreciation for the play that won the game for the Jets.
“You watch the replay, actually it was a great play by [Burmistrov],” admits Hunter. “He held it for like five seconds. It was a great play because Johnny couldn’t defend. And they get the winning goal because of it. But it was a great play by the kid.”
With Friday’s win, Winnipeg pulls to within two points of the Capitals in the chase for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference standings.
These two teams meet again a week from tonight at Verizon Center.
“We’ve got them again,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “We’ve got them again in a week. Hockey players have long memories. We’ll see them soon. They’re right behind us. We’ll see them in a week.”
Key Caps Kill – Already owning a 2-1 lead late in the second period, the Jets had a glorious opportunity to add to their advantage when they had a two-man advantage for 1:39. Faced with the daunting task of shutting down the league’s top home ice power play in that situation – and with top penalty-killing forward Laich in the box for the a full two minutes at the time – Hunter sent forwards Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks and Alzner onto the ice.
Beagle lost the defensive zone draw, and the three Caps and Vokoun were forced to do everything they could to quell the Jets’ potent power play. Winnipeg pushed its five-man unit down to the tops of the circles in the Washington end, and began working the puck around. The Caps were able to get a much-needed face-off when Vokoun made a glove stop on a Byfuglien blast from the point.
Hunter sent out fresh troops for the rest of the kill at that point, but Winnipeg coach Claude Noel called his timeout. Given some time for his tired charges to catch their breath, Hunter opted to gamble and send out Beagle, Hendricks and Alzner to complete the kill, and it proved to be a worthy call.
“They did a great job blocking,” says Hunter. “They’re shot-blocking guys. They sacrificed their body. That’s hard to defend. When you’ve got guys shooting at 100 miles an hour, it’s going to hurt. They sacrificed for the team to kill it off.”
Not only did the Caps finish off the kill in fine fashion, but they were able to spring Laich on a semi-breakaway out of the box in the waning seconds of the frame. Laich drew a penalty the put the Caps on the power play, and Caps center Mathieu Perreault scored the tying goal on the man-advantage 27 seconds into the final period.
“They called that timeout there and gave us a chance to rest,” says Alzner. “Once you’re in that groove, you’ve already played it for a minute or a minute and 10 seconds. They stick with the guys [who had been on the ice] because they know what to expect.”
Head Hunting – Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart delivered a questionable hit to the head of Johansson behind the Winnipeg net midway through the first frame. Stuart came up high with both arms and his stick, hitting Johansson in the head after he had released the puck, and knocking the sophomore center’s helmet off.
“It was a high hit, and the league will review it,” says Hunter.
Johansson was briefly stunned, but he remained in the game initially. He actually picked up the primary helper on the Caps’ first goal on his very next shift.
The Caps’ center went to the locker room for a few shifts in the second period to be evaluated further. He finished the game and appeared to be none the worse for wear.
Nonetheless, the Caps weren’t at all happy with the play.
“Apparently,” begins Laich, “Mark Stuart can hit guys in the head. “He did it to [Caps forward Troy] Brouwer. He did it to Marcus.”
There was no penalty called on the play. For what it is worth, there was no penalty called on the play that earned Caps defenseman Mike Green a three-game unpaid vacation for his hit on the Lightning’s Brett Connolly in a March 8 game at Verizon Center.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Adirondack Phantoms on Friday night at Giant Center. Five different Bears found the back of the net as Hershey romped to a 6-3 win.
Kundratek added three assists for a four-point night. Freshly signed forward T.J. Syner earned his first professional point with a helper on Kundratek’s goal, the first strike of the game.
Adirondack’s Matt Ford and Hershey’s Kevin Marshall dropped the gloves in the second period of the game. The two were traded for each other earlier in the season.
Third-place Hershey now trails second-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL’s East Division by five points.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays hosted the Greenville Road Warriors at North Charleston Coliseum on Friday night. South Caolina came out on the short end of a 3-2 shootout decision.
Billy Ryan scored both Stingrays goals and Billy Sauer made 37 saves in the South Carolina nets to help the home team pick up a point.
The 34-24-4-3 Stingrays are tied for third in the ECHL’s South Division standings, 10 points behind front-running Gwinnett.
By The Numbers –Dennis Wideman led the Capitals with 21:32 in ice time … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net and five hits … Carlson led the Caps with five blocked shots … Beagle was a beast in the face-off circle, taking 20 of the 57 draws in the game and winning 14 (70%). Beagle accounted for nearly half (14 of 29) of Washington’s face-off wins in the game … Beagle led all Caps forwards with 19:53 in ice time, a single-game career best. He was on the ice for 5:30 of the Capitals’ 8:24 in shorthanded time for the game.