Last night’s game saw the return of Caps’ stars Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott after missing more than a few games due to undisclosed injuries against a rabid Carolina Hurricanes team, holding to a thread of hope for grasping the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
The rough stuff started early in the first period and both teams tread a well-trodden path to the sin bin through the opening 20 minutes. Bryan Allen got a bit too feisty with the large man known as Jason Arnott (not smart) and both fellas took a seat at the 8:23 mark. Mere seconds later, Brooks Laich was whistled for interference for giving a Canes player a love tap in the back (with his stick). The boys came up huge on the resulting PK with help from Semyon Varlamov. With the focus on head hits, Carolina’s Chad LaRose made a bonehead (no pun intended) hit on Dennis Wideman, high in the noggin against the boards, and it was his turn to feel shame. Despite a slew of power play opportunities for both teams in the opening period, the scoreboard remained dark with no score going into the break.
Early in the second period, Canes captain Eric Staal was high-sticked by Karl Alzner and came out of the incident looking much like an extra from Saw 4 and giving Matt Bradley a run for his money in the bleeder department. Staal was incensed by the lack of a penalty call against the Caps and vocalized his displeasure to the refs all the way to the bench. It was the Canes who lit the lamp first, with a power play goal from Jussi Jokinen.
The fireworks continued as Tuomo Ruutu (yes, his bro is none other than Sens thug Jarko) hit Dennis Wideman late and high midway through the period, drawing the ire of Alex Ovechkin. Ovi wasted no time avenging the action (and was on Ruutu’s tail the rest of the game dishing out bone-jarring hits). Team mates and Caps fans will be holding their collective breath to hear any injury news about Wideman, who didn’t return to the game. Alex Semin scored first for the Caps at 14:18 with a scary, sick goal from the odd angle of the far right side of Cam Ward. Three minutes later, it was Marcus Johansson displaying some slick stick work to give the home team a 2-1 lead.
The Canes, fighting for that last playoff spot with everything they had, got on the board at the start of the third period courtesy of a goal from baby-faced Jeff Skinner, who leads the pack as far as top NHL rookies (along with our own John Carlson of course).
With less than 30 seconds left in regulation, Ovi appeared to have a clear path to Cam Ward but was rudely taken down from behind with a cross check by Brandon Sutter. During the 4-on-4 overtime, Alex Ovechkin seemed to have never skipped a beat after being out of commission, shooting one puck so hard at Cam Ward that the shot broke Ward’s goalie stick. This contest couldn’t be settled in OT, and despite outshooting the Canes for during regulation and OT, and these two heated Southeast rivals were going to the shootout. Gabby didn’t put shoot out guru of late Matt Hendricks in the lineup and both Ovechkin and Backstrom were thwarted in their attempts. For the Canes, the young Skinner beat Varly for the second goal of the night but it was the game’s key antagonist, Tuomo Ruutu with the game winner, beating the Caps at home 3-2.
Up next, the boys face their final Western Conference opponent of the regular season, the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. On the opposing bench will be former Caps’ captain Chris Clark along with the very opinionated RJ Umberger. Let’s hope Thursday’s game has a more positive outcome and that Dennis Wideman is on the healthy list!