Over his 15-season National Hockey League career, Washington Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin has become one of the NHL’s best goal-scorers of all-time, setting, tying, and breaking multiple league accolades. However during his rise up the NHL Goals ladder, Ovechkin has set numerous franchise records for the Caps. In this latest Retro Recap, Diane Doyle looks back 12 years to March 25, 2008.
Prior to their game against the division rival Carolina Hurricanes, the Capitals were battling to make the playoffs for the first time since before the 2004-05 lockout. It would be an uphill battle as heading into the game, the Hurricanes held a 41-30-5 record and 87 standings points and the Capitals sat with a 37-31-8 record and 82 standings points. Washington had a five-point gap to close, with just six games left to accomplish this. Other teams in the mix in the Eastern Conference trying to clinch the final playoff spots included the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins. At that time, the Caps sat two points behind the Bruins for the last playoff spot. The safest playoff path, however, would be to pass the Hurricanes and win the Southeast Division. In the meantime, they also had to stay ahead of the Florida Panthers, who were just one point behind them in the standings. The result would have great implications for the Capitals and their quest for the playoffs: a win would put them just three points shy of Carolina and keep their playoff hopes alive, while a loss would put them seven points behind the ‘Canes and strike a blow at their playoff chances. The Capitals were playing their fourth game as part of a six-game road trip in the south, in which they had most recently defeated the Atlanta Thrashers 5-3 in a come-from-behind win.
Then-Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau’s plan was to start in net, Cristobal Huet, who the team had acquired in a trade at the trade deadline. The Hurricanes would counter with Cam Ward, who would be making his 15th consecutive start in goal; on the season, Ward was 4-0 with a shutout, a 1.76 Goals-Against Average, and a .949 Save Percentage against the Capitals.
Boudreau shuffled the lines to some degree by having forward Eric Fehr join Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov on the second-line and moving Tomas Fleischmann, who hadn’t recorded a point all month, to the third-line. While Fehr had only scored one goal since his being called up from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears in early February, Washington’s bench boss figured it was a good chance to reward him for his hard work.
The game was scoreless for most of the opening frame. Although the Capitals had had several chances, they couldn’t seem to put the puck past Ward. With just 24 seconds left in the period the ‘Canes would be given the first man-advantage of the game, as Semin was called for hooking. Carolina’s Jeff Hamilton scored for Carolina just 10 seconds into the ensuing power play. The Capitals and Hurricanes headed into the first intermission with the home team on top.
The Capitals would not have to wait long into the middle frame to get their own power play opportunity, as Trevor Letowski was called for holding at the 5:14 mark. A minute and 13 seconds into Washington’s man-advantage, Hurricanes star forward Eric Staal was called for holding, setting the Capitals up for a 5-on-3 power play. Just as Letowski’s penalty expired, Semin scored his 21st goal of the season on assists from Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Backstrom, to tie the game at 1-1.
At the 9:41 mark, Alex Ovechkin put the Visitors ahead by scoring his 61st goal of the season, on assists from Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov. This goal have Ovechkin the tally needed to break the franchise Single-Season Goals Record, which was jointly held with Dennis Maruk. Ovechkin had tied Maruk’s record in the team’s prior game against the Atlanta Thrashers on March 21.
Washington was unable to hold the lead for very long, as Carolina’s Erik Cole scores the equalizer at 16:27. The two teams would head into the second intermission knotted at 2-2.
The third period was rather uneventful. While the frame featured an early penalty by Letowski, the Caps were unable to convert. For the remainder of the period, there were no penalties and no goals, sending the game into overtime.
The extra frame started off promising for the Capitals, as Cole was penalized for hooking just 16 seconds into the overtime period; however, the Caps were unable to convert on the power play. Neither team ended up scoring in the five-minute overtime period, sending the game into a shootout. The first two rounds of the shootout went scoreless as both Semin and Ovechkin missed for the Caps and Jeff Hamilton and Sergei Samsonov missed for the Hurricanes. Viktor Kozlov, the third shooter for Boudreau, scored, while Staal missed for Carolina, giving the Capitals their second win in a row. Huet made 25 saves on the ‘Canes’ 27 shots, while Ward made 42 saves on 44 shots.
With the win, Washington were now 38-31-8, with 84 standings points, and had closed the standings gap between themselves and Carolina to three points.
By Diane Doyle
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