In an evening that Alexander Ovechkin had prophesized that he would score four goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he came up three short and was outshone by Curtis Joseph.
On the strength of a magnificent performance from Cujo, the Leafs handed the Washington Capitals a 3-2 defeat. The veteran netminder was forced into action late in the game, and for overtime. He stopped nine shots, and earned the game’s first star, despite less than six minutes of work.
Martin Gerber started the game for the Leafs and played 59:04 of it, but was then ejected with less than a minute to go. There was a goal-mouth scramble and Brooks Laich managed to slap the puck into the net, and Gerber along with it, to even the game at 2-2. Gerber went ballistic and not only grabbed referee Mike Leggo, but shot a puck in his direction as well.
Joseph may have come into the game cold, but he was on fire. His first save was on a wide open Ovechkin with 12 seconds to go, to keep the game tied and force the extra period. The 41-year-old then stopped eight shots in overtime, and managed to stymie Nicholas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and finally Ovechkin in the shootout.
At times, the game was dull, but it was very evenly contested for most of the night. The Leafs came out quickly and dominated the first five minutes of play, only to have Washington control most of the rest of the first period. The shots finished up 10-6 in favor of the Capitals, and the Leafs had a stretch of fourteen minutes where they did not get a shot at Jose Theodore. Perhaps the only real highlight of the period was a textbook bodycheck from Ovechkin on Matt Stajan.
The second period was a little more entertaining. Leaf Rookie Phil Oreskovic scored the game’s first goal, and the first of his NHL career at 9:04 of the second. The big defenseman beat Theodore with a shot from the point that appeared to bounce off of a Caps player in front of the net.
Ovechkin evened the score at 1-1 in the final minute of the period. After crossing over to his off-wing in the neutral ice, the Russian superstar took a pass from Backstrom as he came around the right side. He blew past Luke Schenn and cut in on Gerber on his forehand – he pulled the puck across the front of the Leafs goalie, and backhanded his league-leading 51st goal of the season into the open net.
The score stayed tied until Pavel Kubina scored a power-play goal with just over two minutes to go in the game. It looked as though it might hold up as the game winner, but for the second Caps / Leafs game in a row, Washington managed to send the game into overtime with a goal in the final minute of regulation. Despite the subsequent Gerber meltdown, and a review of the play, the goal stood and Laich had his 19th goal of the season.
With Joseph stopping all three penalty shots, the goal from Leaf Jeff Hamilton on the first shot of the shootout, proved to be the game winner. The Leafs’ victory gave them 75 points on the season – eight points back of the Montreal Canadiens and the final playoff spot, with just eight games remaining.
With the point, the Capitals sit comfortably in second in the Eastern Conference with 97 points, tied with the New Jersey Devils. The extra point would have been valuable, and obviously moved the Caps past the Devils, who now have two games in-hand. Washington head back home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center on Friday night.
The assist on Ovechkin’s goal was Backstrom’s 58th – good enough for fourth overall in the NHL – behind only Evgeni Malkin (72), Sidney Crosby (67), and Pavel Datsyuk (59).
Ovechkin was credited with four bodychecks in the game, that was as close to the four goals that he had ‘promised’ to score. His best hit of the night was on Leaf tough guy Brad May.
Oreskovic was the SIXTH Toronto Maple Leaf to score their first NHL goal in 2008/2009 – Luke Schenn, John Mitchell, Nikolai Kulemin, Tim Stapleton, and Jonas Frogren are the other five.