On Wednesday night, the Canes again had to go to the extra session to defeat the pesky Washington Capitals. This one actually had to go to a shootout, where Matt Cullen was the only successful shooter.
On Friday night, the Canes will again be in Washington for what will thankfully be the last game against the Caps this season. After easily winning the first two matchups this season, the Canes have struggled against the Caps since. In some instances they've been flat out beaten. In some, they failed to bring their "A game". Either way, the Caps have given the Canes fits for most of the season.
Early in the first frame, the Canes were off to a 2-0 lead. Eric Staal (who JP at Japers' Rink calls "Baby Face") broke his seven game goal drought with a tip-in at 2:52, just as a penalty to Jamie Heward had elapsed. It was his 43rd goal of the season. Cory Stillman and Andrew "hot dog with cheese" Hutchinson got assists. Hutchinson earned his eighth assist, while Stillman got his 50th.
Later in the first, Matt Cullen got his 24th goal of the season at 5:28. Cory Stillman and Eric Staal each got their 51st assist of the season on the goal.
The second period was all Caps. In a span of 49 seconds, they got both goals back to knot it at two. Jeff Halpern at 7:30 and Dainius Zubrus at 8:19. At first glance, the first goal looked to be Ovechkin's, but replays proved that it glanced off Halpern's stick for a power play goal.
Before that goal was even announced, "Alexander the Gr8" and Zubrus connected on a really pretty piece of passing to easily beat Martin Gerber (who the good folks at Japers' Rink are playfully calling "Baby Food"). It was the 20th goal for Zubrus and the 49th helper for AO.
While the Caps were enjoying a five-on-three, Zubrus got his second of the game at 7:11 of the third. It was a really sloppy play where Gerber made a stop, but failed to control the rebound. The Caps nearly missed not one but two shots on an open net when Gerber was out of position. Halpern had the first crack at the empty net, and Zubrus didn't miss on his chance. AO picked up another assist, his 50th of the season.
With the Caps' Chris Clark gone for tripping, the Canes were able to tie it up at 13:25 with a goal by the Recchin' ball near the left faceoff dot. He one-timed a no-look pass from Dougie Weight that just barely got through Brent Johnson.
In the overtime period, Carolina had a very brief power play when Zubrus was sent off for holding at 4:47. Carolina won the ensuing faceoff and got two quality shots off before the final horn sounded.
Things looked kind of rough for Carolina because Ray Whitney got injured in the first period, and was unavailable for the shootout. He and Erik Cole have been the go-to guys in that situation. However, the Canes made the best of it when another hot hand in shootout situations came through. Matt Cullen got the only goal in the shootout session, giving the Canes their second nail-biting win over the Caps in three days. Cullen shook it up a bit on his shot. He normally goes high on the blocker side, but this time, he went five hole to become the only shooter out of nine to beat Brent Johnson in shootouts this season.
Once more on Friday night, and the Canes are done with the Caps until next October.
In other games, the Sabres have really turned things around by winning their second straight game. They defeated Ottawa 5-4 in overtime. This, of course, was good news to the Canes. It means we pick up one point against the Sens. Ottawa now has 108 points with seven games to play, while Carolina has 106 points with six to play. It's possible that Carolina could overtake the Senators for first place in the East, but it's somewhat unlikely. Moreover, I'm not entirely sure that the Canes would even want the #1 seed in the East. It would likely mean that they would face Tampa in the first round, which isn't exactly a favorable matchup. Montréal, on the other hand (currently residing in the #7 slot), is a much more attractive matchup for the Canes.
Friday night will be the last of the three-game series with the Caps. More important, it will thankfully be the last meeting of the season for the two teams. Have I mentioned that already? Puck drop will be 7:00.
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