The beleaguered Toronto Maple Leafs paid a visit to our nation's capital this evening, hoping to stop their three-game losing streak with a win against the surging Capitals. The Leafs would have to place more defensive responsibilities on the shoulders of the baby-faced Luke Schenn, as their rough and tumble captain Dion Phaneuf is on the shelf for at least a month after suffering a cut from a skate blade (after seeing my own kiddo cut by a blade two weeks ago, HM sends heartfelt hockey healing wishes to the Leafs' leader).
Rookie of the month Michal Neuvirth manned the crease for the Caps while Jonas Gustavssson (AKA "The Monster") stood guard for Toronto. Fans knew fisticuffs were virtually inevitable and heavyweights DJ King and Colton Orr got the party started early by dropping the gloves at the 6:45 mark of the first period. Mike Knuble was visibly chomping at the bit to score and tallied four shots on goal in the opening period. While the Capitals out shot the Leafs in the opening stanza, it was the visitors who lit the lamp first as Nikolai Kulemin beat John Erskine to get his team on the board. The first penalty of the game came in the waning minutes of the period when - hold your breath in disbelief - Sasha Semin took a seat for slashing. End of first period: Leafs 1 - Caps 0
After killing off the penalty, the boys in red owned the second period. After Ovi was tripped by Schenn, Mike Green tallied a power play goal to tie the game. Funny - one of the topics of conversation on XM's Hockey This Morning centered on some fans' frustration surrounding Green's more defensive style of play thus far. Of course last year, Green was blasted for being more of an offensive d-man. Poor guy - can't please 'em all. Tonight's lovely power play goal for big 52 should quiet the haters temporarily at least. The Caps put two more on the board after the power play marker - with the goals a mere 53 seconds apart! Jason Chimera netted one assisted by his pals on everyone's favorite "grinder line" - Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon. Then John Carlson ripped one from the blue line that was deflected right past the not-so-scary Monster. Ovechkin connected with Nicklas Backstrom who shot at what appeared to be a wide-open net, but Gustavsson may have had a hand in stopping the dangerous center. The Leafs' Schenn was having a hard time staying out of the penalty box and ended the period by boarding David Steckel. End of second period: Caps 3 - Leafs 1
The Capitals started the final period with the man-advantage but were unable to convert. And then it was the Leafs' turn to light it up seconds apart. Toronto turned the momentum as their elite defense man Tomas Kaberle scored at the 4:14 mark. Then it was former Blackhawk Kris Versteeg's turn as he evaded a sprawling Mike Green - Mike Komisarek had helpers on both goals. Eric Fehr, who was having a rather nice game, got the whistle for tripping at 6:28. On the ensuing power play, Tyler Bozak hushed a packed Verizon Center crowd as he netted a wrist shot to give the Leafs a 4-3 lead. But the visitors didn't hold that lead for long as the Capitals got the man advantage courtesy of a Brett Lebda cross check. While Caps' faithful held their collective breath, the power play unit went to work. Alex Semin battled hard to net one under the bar and tie the contest at 4-4.
In what appeared to be a surefire Capitals' win in the second period, this game was headed to overtime. The Caps were gifted with a 4-on-3 power play in the extra minutes as Clarke MacArthur served two minutes for slashing but Jonas Gustavsson lived up to his nickname in keeping the Leafs in the game. But this one wasn't over yet, no sir, not by a long shot. With no decision reached in OT, the game was headed to a hand-wringing shoot out. Michal Neuvirth was spectacular in keeping sniper Phil Kessel off the score sheet and later denying Nikolai Kulemon. But in the end, the two Alexes saved the day as both Ovechkin and Semin beat the Monster. Not the brilliant performance we saw from the boys in Calgary by any means and Semin was maddening but stellar at the same time. In any case, the boys walked away with the win and will face the bruising Bruins on Friday. Final score: Caps 5 - Leafs 4