The Washington Capitals have never had a regular season clean sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have also never won 24 road games, finished first in the Eastern Conference or won the President's Trophy either. Clearly it is a season of firsts for the Washington Capitals and it shouldn't be surprising that they would be able to keep an Eastern Conference foe and defending Stanley Cup Champions at bay in a 6-3 win at Mellon Arena.
Alex Ovechkin broke a four game goal drought to score a pair of goals. He pulls even with Sidney Crosby (who also had a goal tonight) for the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals at 48. The Caps also got some goal production from some other lines as well as Alex Semin, Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Knuble and Matt Bradley all made the scoresheet.
"We got a team that is built as an offensive team," Bruce Boudreau said. "You've got other lines that [besides the top line] can come in. You've got Steckel's line, I thought Beagle's line played good and Flash's line. I mean they all chipped in."
It was a physical affair as the Penguins tried to out muscle the Capitals in the first period. John Erskine left the first period with a lower body injury, the Capitals ended up playing with only five defenseman for the last two periods.
"Pittsburgh was pretty physical against us," Boudreau said of his defense core taking a beating. "I thought all five [remaining defensemen] came to play."
"It's tough when you get down to 5 guys," Tyler Sloan said to reporters, wearing the Caps' hard hat as the players' choice for the game's MVP. "But the group of five back there did a heck of a job, I thought. We just banded together and grind it out."
It would be a miss step by Alex Goligoski who stumbled with Semin bearing down on him to get the Caps going. Semin took the open ice and waited out Penguins' goaltender Marc-Andre Fluery before top shelfing it over the netminder's left shoulder for his 39th goal of the season.
The Capitals got an early jump in the second period when Mike Knuble shot a harmless looking slapper towards Fluery. The shot had eyes as it squeezed under Fluery's right goal pad and giving the Caps the 2-0 lead.
The Penguins fought to get back into the game and would eventually draw a penalty out of Knuble who was sent to the box for holding. Crosby took advantage of Dave Steckel floating high to cover Sergei Gonchar and skated into the open ice and shooting it past Semyon Varlamov to get the Pens on the board.
The Capitals would respond just 21 seconds later when Semin beat out an icing call centering the puck off the half boards to Fleischmann. Semin would take an elbow to the side of the head from Maxim Talbot in the process. Flash took the pass and shot it over Fluery's right shoulder to give the Caps the two goal lead back. That goal would end the night for Fluery. Brent Johnson would come in relief.
The Pens were not finished there. Jordan Leopold took advantage of Caps' defenseman Shaone Morrisonn for a pair of goals. The first was a point shot where Mo lost his stick and tried to block the shot with his skate. The result was the puck deflecting in on Varly and through his pads into the net.
"When you see a lot of bodies in front sometimes you look for sticks and skates what ever it may be," Leopold said of his deflection goal. "That is how I ended up scoring my first one and I was looking for that again."
But the Caps scored again to regain their two goal lead. Bradley would score his 10th of the season with two minutes left in the second period as he deflected a Quintin Laing shot past Johnson.
"It's not a big milestone," Bradley said with a smirk. "But it felt good to get to ten and get a big win."
Leopold wasn't done with Morrisonn, early in the third Leopold lined up a shot on net. Morrisonn may have screened his goaltender going down for the block and the puck sailed past Varly. The Penguins would pull into one goal for the third time in the game.
"We were trying to get the momentum back," Penguins' coach Dan Bylsma said. "When we did ... numerous times tonight [the Caps] were able to come back and get a goal immediately, in that type of fashion. And we kept having to restart."
"We fought back a couple of times," Crosby said. "They took that momentum away pretty quick."
The Penguins took their first and only penalty of the game not long after clawing back into the game. Bill Guerin got his stick a bit high on Morrisonn, knocking the defender's lid off. It would only take Alex Ovechkin 4 seconds to score on the ensuing power play. Right off the draw, Ovechkin took in the loose puck and buried it past Johnson's left arm.
"I had a few chances to score [in the last few games] but it didn't go in," Ovechkin said of his recent scoring drought. "Finally it goes in and I feel pretty good."
Ovechkin would complete the series series sweep with an empty net goal that drew him even with Crosby for most goals in a season. While the Caps have swept the regular season series, the Caps know the playoffs are a different story and they may be back here again.
"It's nice to win all our games [against Pittsburgh] in the regular season," Bradley said. "But the regular season doesn't mean anything when it comes to playoffs. And everyone knows that they are a playoff team."
"It was a tough one to lose," Crosby opined after the game. "I thought we did a lot of good things and any little space they had they made it count."
The Caps will finish their road campaign with a 24-10-7 record. No team in the NHL can match Washington's 10 road regulation loss record for the '09-'10 season. Ovechkin pulled up into a tie with Henrik Sedin for points, but Sedin had an assist in their game against Colorado. The Penguins loss drops them down to fourth in the Eastern Conference as the New Jersey Devils won their game tonight against Atlanta.
The Capitals' top line got some much needed goal support with goals from the second and fourth lines. Besides a few miscues by the Caps defense, the Penguins were stifled on the offensive side. Special teams was also a bright spot as the Penguins were 1 for 4 power play chances spending 6:46 with the extra man. In contrast the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play and only had 4 seconds of extra man time.
- Just before the game, Capitals recalled Jay Beagle and Karl Alzner. Beagle had a good game filling in for Eric Belanger who was one of the banged up players Boudreau sat. Beagle was the best Capital in the face off dot winning 7 of ten draws (70%). Alzner did not play.
- Mike Green was sat for a second game in a row to "rest." The Capitals may choose to rest more players in the last two games of the season.
- This may be the last time the Capitals will play in Mellon Arena. They finish up their stay at the "Igloo" with a regular season record of 34-51-7-1 and 8-16 in the playoffs. I highly doubt it will be the last time these two meet at Mellon, but it would be nice if was the last time.