The Capitals, after losing to Atlanta 7-4 just the night before, bounced back against Chicago tonight with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory.
The Caps faithful certainly “rocked the red” proudly tonight, as the streets of Chinatown were abuzz with hope, and flowing with red jerseys and t-shirts.
There was a carnival-like atmosphere around Verizon Center with musicians, a small band by the F-street entrance, Slapshot (the Caps’ official mascot) working the crowds, and a big block of ice with signed hockey sticks playing the role of Excalibur to anyone who could “King Arthur” them (yes, I just used “King Arthur as a verb) from the ice block.
Even before Verizon was half full, the crowd was making plenty of noise. The cheered a highlight video set to “10,000 Fists” by Disturbed, rained down the “boo’s” on Cristobal Huet while he was warming up (he did not play tonight after giving up four goals the night before), and made a similar noise when they saw Coach Bruce Boudreau on the big screen (though they were actually yelling “Bruce” not really booing him).
Tonight’s game started with the Caps raising high the banner of the ’07-‘08 Southeast Division Champions but the cheering was cut short less than 30 seconds into the game as Chicago had their first tally before many people had even found their seats.
It certainly appeared like it was going to be a long night for Jose Theodore, but surprisingly he didn’t catch nearly the amount of venom from the crowd as Huet did during warm-ups. The crowd did express a bit of frustration when Theodore later failed to make what would be a routine save as some fans tried to start a “Kolzig” chant (unsuccessfully).
You couldn’t blame the crowd for being a little angry as Theodore had now given up two goals on 8 total shots.
Thankfully the crowd’s anger didn’t have very long to settle in as the Caps would score their first goal 1:45 later when David Steckel set up a picture perfect one-timer to Matt Bradley who was just to the right of the goal crease.
Turns out it was Chicago net-minder Nikolai Khabibulin that was going to have the long night as he faced 34 shots and gave up four goals. Truth be told, the score should have been higher as Khabibulin made some pretty spectacular saves.
The Caps seemed a bit like “Baby Huey” tonight as they didn’t seem really comfortable playing either offense, or defense, but were strong at times on both. It’s hard to accurately describe, the team looked strong but at times seemed to misfire resulting in a lot of turnovers that were quickly recovered.
Alex Ovechkin, after not getting so much as an assist last night, made a nice steal as the ‘Hawks were entering the zone early in the second period and skipped along the right lane going one-on-one with a defender towards the net. Ovechkin, who typically does some of his best work when he comes in from the left, leaned to the right and shot around the defender and over the left shoulder of a hapless Khabibulin to tie the game at two.
The highlight of the night, for me, came in the third period. There was a little more than 5 minutes left in the game, the scoreboard is playing a montage video with all of these inspirational movie moments and it culminates with the whole crowd screaming “BRING THE FURY!” A little more than 30 seconds later, Alex Semin and Brooks Laich brought the fury. Semin fired off a shot that hit Khabibulin and bounced to the stick of Laich who poked it just past the goal line and gave the Caps a dramatic go-ahead goal.
The play was close as Khabibulin had snatched the puck back quickly so the goal had to be reviewed, and every time it was shown on the replay the crowd went nuts like they had just scored again.
Alex Ovechkin would put the nail in the coffin for Chicago just under three minutes later.
After the game, Brooks Laich was sitting in his locker, still in pads and wearing a bright red Capitals hard-hat with a number 21 sticker on it. “I don’t know, Clarkie just pulled it out of his bag and gave it to me after the game,” said Laich who was all smiles in the locker-room “I guess it’s something new. He said it goes to the guy who just works hard and does what it takes to help the team win.”
—The Caps were outshot in the first period 10-6 but outshot Chicago overall 34-21 tonight. Theodore seemed to overcome his earlier jitters and helped the Caps keep their four goals unanswered by making some highlight-reel saves late in the game.
—Tonight’s three stars were David Steckel, Brooks Laich, and Alex Ovechkin.
—The whistle-flavoring I referenced in yesterday’s blog must have worn off as the refs only called a total of 11 penalties combined tonight. Two of those penalties belonged to David Steckel who received a tripping minor just ten seconds after leaving the penalty box from a previous tripping minor. When asked if he had said anything to Steckel Coach Boudreau said “I haven’t yet but I will.” He held a serious face for a minute and then chuckled a little bit with the reporters. “He had a pretty good game, and he looked at me after the second one and I just… [Boudreau trails off shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head]” This drew a lot of laughter from the press corps.
—Brent Johnson is still just one win away from his 100th career victory. If Theodore continues to play like he did in the second and third periods tonight, Johnny might have to wait just a little longer.
The Caps are now 1-1-0 on the season and face Vancouver Monday night at Verizon. The Canucks are currently 2-0-0 including tonight’s overtime win over Calgary.