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Just over 11 years ago, the Washington Capitals played the New York Rangers in their second home game of the new year on January 3, 2009. In this latest Retro Recap, Diane Doyle takes a look back at that game and the events leading up to, and after it.
The Capitals had won their last five games heading into the contest, despite an extremely long injury list that included key players such as Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Semin, Tom Poti, and Tomas Fleischmann. The game that started off the team’s winning streak was coincidentally, against the same opponent at Madison Square Garden two days before Christmas in the game forever known as the “Miracle on 33rd Street” in Caps’ lore, in which the team fell behind 4-0 early in the second period, but came back to tie the game and then finally win in overtime.
Going into their second home game of 2009, the Caps held a 25-11-3 record for 53 standings points, were leading the Southeast Division, and had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, with the Boston Bruins having the best record overall. The Rangers, meanwhile, came into the game with a record of 23-13-3 for49 standings points and on top of the Atlantic Division.
The goaltending matchup pitted Jose Theodore of the Capitals against the Rangers’ backup at the time, Steve Valiquette, with starter Henrik Lundqvist sidelined with the flu. The Caps would get Semin back in the lineup, but Fedorov, Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon, Poti, John Erskine, and Brian Pothier were still out of action
The first period was a tight, checking defensive struggle in which neither team was able to dent the twine. The Rangers took two minor penalties, while the Capitals took one penalty. The game headed into the first intermission tied 0-0.
The game remained scoreless through half of the second period before the Rangers opened the scoring halfway through the second period on a goal by Petr Prucha, who scored his third goal of the season at the 10:04 mark, on assists from Brandon Dubinsky and Nikolai Zherdev, to put the visitors ahead by one. However, 30 seconds after the Rangers scored, Ryan Callahan was called for tripping, putting the Capitals on the power play which put the Caps on the power play, where a passing combination between Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin to defenseman Mike Green resulted in Washington knotting the score at 1-1 at the 11:23 mark of the middle frame.
With just under two minutes to go in the second, the Caps’ Matt Bradley was called for delay of game after a failed clear. In this game, then-Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau had made the unusual move of using Ovechkin on the penalty kill, which, but had done so given that the Rangers had given up several shorthanded goals. In this case, the move paid off, as Ovechkin received a pass from center David Steckel and was able to put himself on a breakaway to score shorthanded at the 19:28 mark of the middle frame for his 27th goal of the season to put the Caps ahead 2-1.
The final period of play saw no scoring, but it was not without action. After Semin crashed into the Blueshirts’ net, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal took exception, which resulted in the two players throwing punches. As Semin did not have his fight strap tied down, Staal was able to pull Semin’s jersey off him, as Semin began to punch Staal as though he were a bongo drum. The failure of Semin to attach his fight strap resulted in him being ejected from the game with a Game Misconduct, and both Semin and Staal were assessed five minutes each for fighting.
The game resulted in a 2-1 victory for the Capitals, their sixth consecutive victory. The victory pushed their record to 26-11-3, the best record after 40 games in the franchise’s 35-year history, with their previous best after 40 games coming during the 1985-86 season.
Boudreau spoke after the game, telling the media, “You’ve got to win every which way. That’s playoff hockey. You play a really good team and you shut them down and you do it with all four lines.”
Semin’s fight was probably the most remembered moment of the game and was his first NHL fight within a game, although he had once fought a teammate in practice.
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