With the New Jersey Devils coming into Capital One Arena to play the Washington Capitals on Saturday night, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle takes us back to another game that took place between these two teams around the same time-frame.
The Devils entered the contest in first place, leading the Atlantic Division with a 26-8-1 record and 53 standings points. They were riding a five-game winning streak, having beat the Penguins 4-0 in their most recent game, which had taken place on December 21 in Pittsburgh. The Devils also had the best record in the Eastern Conference.
The Caps, meanwhile, were leading the Southeast Division, with a slightly worse record of 23-8-6, with their most recent game being a 5-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres. The Caps had 52 standings points, just one behind the Devils, but the Devils had two games in hand. The standings picture is roughly similar to today’s picture, where the Caps and Devils have the same number of points, 49, but the Devils have three games in hand.
The Caps were playing their fourth and last game against the Devils that season. None of the previous games had gone well for the Caps. They lost 3-2 in a shootout on October 12. They lost 3-2 in regulation on November 4 when they had scored first but gave up three unanswered goals, including two power plays by Niclas Bergfors. Their most recent loss to the Devils was ten days later when they opened up a 2-0 lead but gave up five unanswered goals and lost 5-2. In short, playing the Devils that season was an exercise in frustration and featured blown leads, due to a variety of causes including bad penalties, bad turnovers; etc. Game Preview from Washington Post
Michal Neuvirth got the start in goal for the Caps for his third straight start while Martin Brodeur was in goal for the Devils. Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring early in the game – at 4:09. Nicklas Backstrom had won the faceoff and passed to Ovechkin who shot from the left circle and scored. Caps lead 1-0.
The Caps scored again with slightly more than six minutes left in the period. This time, Matt Bradley shot the puck which bounced off Mike Mottau and sailed towards the net. Brodeur tried to stop it but it bounced off his glove and into the net. The Caps now lead 2-0. Bradley got assists from Dave Steckel and Karl Alzner.
But the Devils scored late in the first period. Rod Pelley scored at 17:18, with a shot that bounced off John Erskine’s pants, getting an assist from Ilkka Pikkarainen. The score at the end of the first period was 2-1 in favor of the Caps. Shaone Morrisonn also earned a penalty with less than a minute in the period, so the Caps would start off the next period short-handed.
With Morrisonn still in the penalty box for his carry over-penalty, Caps fans could not help but be worried about how the remainder of the game would go, considering they had started off previous games with leads against the Devils, only to blow the lead each time. They killed off the Morrisonn penalty and, soon after that, killed off a penalty to Jeff Schultz. However, at 5:20, it appeared that Jay Pandolfo scored the game tying goal for New Jersey. However, the officials waved it off, so the Caps still led.
Nearly halfway through the period, at 9:52 in fact, the Caps did what they had not done in their previous three contests with the Devils that year – they scored a third time. Nicklas Backstrom scored from the front of the net, getting assists from his linemates, Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin.
The Caps took two more penalties that period, (Milan Jurcina and Alexander Semin) but fortunately killed-off both. The Devils took two late penalties in the period, one to Jamie Langenbrenner at 17:31 and another to Andy Greene exactly a minute later, but the Capitals could not score during the 2-man advantage. They finished the period with a 3-1 lead.
Andy Greene started off the period in the penalty box, with his carry-over penalty from the previous period. While the Devils killed off the remaining 31 seconds of the penalty, the Caps ended up scoring nine seconds later. Mike Green scored his eighth goal of the season, getting assists from Ovechkin and Backstrom.
The Caps now led 4-1 which ended up being the final score. The Caps finally were able to beat the New Jersey Devils that year.
Due to beating the Devils in that game, the Caps now had a 24-8-6 record and 55 standings points, one more than New Jersey. They now led the Eastern Conference standings, even though New Jersey still had two games in hand. The Caps had snapped the Devils’ five-game winning streak and had a three-game winning streak of their own. That loss was only the third Devils’ loss on the road.
For individual milestones, Nicklas Backstrom earned his 200th point, earning it with his assist on the first Capitals’ goal. He had gotten these 200 points in just 201 games. Goalie Michal Neuvirth made 29 saves in earning his third straight win.
Neuvirth’s post game comment was as follows. “I’m feeling unbelievable right now. I just beat the best goalie [Martin Brodeur] in the world, so it’s amazing. I used to watch him on TV, so it was something special.”
By Diane Doyle
Video clips provided by LuvDCaps