On March 21, 2008, the Washington Capitals beat the Atlanta Thrashers 5-3, in a game in which they were trailing 3-1 after two periods. The comeback win would be a sign of things to come for the Capitals.
The game against the Thrashers was the third game of a six-game road trip. The trip had started off well with a win over the Nashville Predators 4-2, but was followed-up with a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks the very next day.
Going into that game against Atlanta, the Caps had a 36-31-8 record, with 80 points. The Caps were trying to make the playoffs, but it appeared to be a formidable task, as they were in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, and thus, out of playoff position. They sat two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers and three points behind the Boston Bruins, the competitors just above them in the conference standings.
The Caps were also seven points behind the Carolina Hurricanes, who lead the Southeast Division. With only seven games left in the season, it would be a difficult job to chase down any of the teams ahead of them.
In any case, making the playoffs would be an amazing accomplishment for a team who was dead last in the NHL on Thanksgiving Day and at the bottom of the Eastern Conference on New Year’s Day.
Game 1 – 03/21/2008 Capitals @ Atlanta Thrashers
The day prior to the game, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau cancelled the scheduled practice, as he figured the players needed time off from the rink. “We’ve played a lot pressured hockey, playoff-like games. I thought they needed the rest.” Boudreau also acknowledged the Capitals probably would need to win five, if not six, of their seven remaining games to have a shot at earning their first playoff berth since the 2002-03 season.
The game started off well for the Caps, as Ovechkin scored his 59th goal of the season with less than five minutes left in the first period. The Caps were leading at the first intermission.
But the second period did not go well for the Caps at all. With Quintin Laing in the penalty box for hooking, Tobias Engstrom of the Thrashers got the game tying goal less than a minute into a power play. Then, with the Caps on a power play of their own, Jim Slater got a break away and scored a short-handed goal to give the Thrashers the lead. Slater added another goal with just under four minutes left in the period. The Thrashers now led 3-1 in a game where the Caps once led.
The Caps peppered Atlanta with shots on goal throughout the period, but none got past their goalie until 11:30, when Ovechkin scored his second goal of the game and his 60th of the season. He got assists from Mike Green and Tom Poti.
Nicklas Backstrom scored the tying goal with four minutes left in the game, getting assists from Mike Green and goalie Cristobal Huet. Just 32 seconds later, Backstrom scored his second goal of the game, getting an assist from Ovechkin, which put the Caps ahead 4-3.
Boyd Gordon added an empty net goal with less than a second left to give the Caps an insurance goal and a 5-3 lead. He got assists from Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin. The final score was 5-3.
Game 2 – 03/25/2008 Capitals @ Carolina Hurricanes
The Caps next traveled to Carolina to play the Southeast Division leading Carolina Hurricanes. Going into the game, Canes’ goalie Cam Ward had a 4-0 record and a .949 save percentage against the Caps for the season. The game started out with neither team scoring until the end of the first period when Carolina scored on a late period power play.
The Caps roared back in second period when Alexander Semin scored on a power play. About halfway through the period and over two minutes after Semin’s goal, Ovechkin put the Caps ahead 2-1. This goal was Ovi’s 61st goal of the season and set a new franchise record for goals.
However, Eric Cole of Carolina tied the game near the end of the second period on a Carolina power play. The third period was uneventful, as no goals were scored for either team. The game proceeded to Overtime and then to a shootout.
The initial two shooters for the Caps, Semin and Ovechkin both missed on their shootout attempts. Fortunately for the Caps, Carolina’s three shooters also missed their shots. Viktor Kozlov had a chance to win it for the Caps, which he did. Caps won the game 3-2 and gained one point on the division leaders.
Game 3 – 03/27/2008 Capitals @ Tampa Bay Lightning
The Caps opened up the scoring with just over two minutes left in the first period, while Tampa Bay was on the power play. Sergei Fedorov passed to Brooks Laich who scored shorthanded. About 40 seconds later, former Caps captain, Jeff Halpern scored on the same power play to tie the score.
Matt Bradley scored from the left circle at 3:11 into the second period, getting assists from defensemen Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz. But then Alexandre Picard scored less than three minutes later to tie the game, again. The score was now 2-2.
During third period, Michel Ouellet put Tampa Bay ahead 3-2 less than seven minutes into the period. Alexander Semin tied the game with less than five minutes to go, getting an assist from Fedorov. Fedorov had won the faceoff and then passed to Semin who was at the top of the right circle who then shot and scored. The game was tied at 3-3 and went to Overtime.
Tomas Fleischmann buried the game winning goal at 2:27 after receiving a pass from Laich at the right circle. Mike Green got the other assist. The Caps won the game 4-3.
Game 4 – 03/29/2008 Capitals @ Florida Panthers
This particular game was scoreless in the first period, despite the fact that both teams took a total of five minor penalties.
The Caps finally opened-up the scoring at 2:48 during the second period when Viktor Kozlov scored, getting assists from Brooks Laich and Tom Poti. Soon afterwards, the Caps got into penalty trouble when they took two consecutive minor penalties. Almost as soon as one penalty was killed, they took another. Fortunately, the Panthers did not score on either of the resulting power plays.
The Caps increased their lead to 2-0 just over five minutes before the end of the period. Mike Green scored his 18th goal of the year, getting assists from Ovechkin and Kozlov. This was Green’s first goal since February 29 and was the first time any defenseman had scored in a month.
Ovechkin scored his 62nd goal of the season more than halfway through the third period, getting assists from Kozlov and Poti. The score was now 3-0, which turned out to be the final score.
The Caps had now won their fourth game in a row. They had won five games during their six game road trip, with their only blemish being a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. They would now play the remainder of their season at home.
Game 5 – 04/01/2008 Capitals vs Carolina Hurricanes
Following the very productive road trip, the Caps returned home to play their final three games of the regular season. The first game was a rematch with the Carolina Hurricanes, where a loss would basically eliminate them from playoff contention.
The Caps came out flying, outhitting and outshooting the Canes. But there was no scoring until Matt Cooke scored for the Caps with 5 minutes left in the period, flicking a long rebound from the slot towards the net. He got assists from Mike Green and Sergei Fedorov.
The Caps scored another goal when Brooks Laich got a pass from Tomas Fleischmann and shot a backhand shot to score his 21st goal of the year near the end of a power play. He also got an assist from Viktor Kozlov. The Caps went into the first intermission, leading 2-0 and having outshot Carolina 14-6. The one negative note about first period was the fact that defenseman, Shaone Morrisonn left the game with an upper body injury.
The Hurricanes got a goal early in the second period to shave the Caps’ lead to 2-1. The second period was notable for penalties, where a parade of players from both teams kept marching to the penalty box.
First, Milan Jurcina took a penalty and then a minute later, John Erskine was penalized, putting Carolina on a 5 on 3 power play. But less than 20 seconds later, Scott Walker of Carolina was penalized, and the Caps were on a more normal penalty kill for less than a minute.
Walker’s penalty had nearly expired when Trevor Letowski earned a double minor penalty to put the Caps on an extended power play. 30 seconds later, Ovechkin and Niclas Wallin earned matching roughing penalties and set up a 4 on 3 situation.
A minute and a half later, with the first part of Letowski’s double minor about to expire, Alexander Semin scored on the power play, getting assists from Green and Fedorov, restoring the Caps’ two goal cushion. Ovechkin added a late third period goal, his 63rd of the year, towards the end of third period, making the score 4-1, which was the final.
Ovechkin’s goal tied him with Luc Robataille for most goals by a left winger. The Caps’ win against Carolina tied them in points, except that the Canes held the standings tie breaker if they finished tied. Had the Canes won, they would have clinched their fourth division title in nine seasons.
The Caps would now make the playoffs if they won their last two games of the season and either the Ottawa Senators or the Boston Bruins lose one game in regulation or both in Overtime, or the Philadelphia Flyers lost one of their final two games, or the Carolina Hurricanes lose their last game to the Florida Panthers.
Game 6 – 04/03/2008 Capitals vs Tampa Bay Lightning
The last place Tampa Bay Lightning were now the Caps’ opponents. The Caps would be without Shaone Morrisonn, who was injured in the April 1 game against Carolina and the prognosis for him was “week to week”.
The game did not start-off well for the Caps, as Filip Kuba scored just 39 seconds into the first period. But the Caps finally tied the game just after the 12 minute mark when Alex Ovechkin scored his 64th goal of the season, getting assists from Viktor Kozlov and Mike Green.
The score remained at 1-1 for the remainder of the first period and the entire second period, despite the fact the Caps had peppered Lightning goalie, Karri Romo, with 29 shots during the first two periods. Romo had stopped a breakway chance for Ovechkin midway through the second period. The Caps seemed to be getting frustrated.
The Caps broke the tie during the third period when Ovechkin rifled a wrist shot from the top of the circles past Romo at 7:50 while on a power play. This put the Caps ahead 2-1 and set off a wild celebration, both on the ice and in the stands. Fans chanted, “M-V-P! M-V-P!” at Ovechkin. Boyd Gordon added an insurance goal for the Caps with a backhand shot at 16:43, getting assists from Matt Bradley and Matt Cooke. Tom Poti added an empty net goal, getting assists from Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov. The score was now 4-1 in favor of the Caps and ended up being the final score. After Poti’s goal, a melee broke out. Matt Bradley and Junior Lessard had a fight and various other players on Tampa Bay were penalized as well. That period also included Matt Cooke laying an open ice hit on Lightning star, Martin St Louis, that resulted in the latter severely injuring his shoulder. Cooke was not penalized in the game but was fined $2500 for that hit the next day.
As a result of this win, the Caps moved into eighth place in the conference and a playoff berth, with the team potentially in a position to control their own fate, depending on the results of their rivals.
Game 7 – 04/05/2008 Capitals vs Florida Panthers
Going into this game, the final game of the regular season, the Caps needed just one more standings point to clinch the Southeast Division championship, since the Carolina Hurricanes had already lost their final game of the season on the previous day to the Panthers.
As was typical for this homestand, this game was a sellout. The Caps started off the game in a somewhat shaky manner but then settled down.
Tomas Fleischmann scored at 7:19. He initially whiffed on a shot but then chased down the loose puck, deked goalie Craig Anderson, and slipped it by him. Fleischmann was assisted by Laich. The Caps led 1-0, a lead that held up through first intermission.
The Panthers tied the game at 6:47 in the second period while they were on a 5 on 3 power play. Sergei Fedorov restored the Caps’ lead when he fired a slapshot from the top of the circles that got past Anderson’s blocker. Semin scored an insurance goal for the team when he teed up a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and fired it past Anderson. He also got an assist from Fedorov. The Caps now led 3-1, which was the final score. The Caps had won their seventh game in a row and clinched the Southeast Division title and were now headed to the playoffs.
The one negative note about the game was that defenseman, Jeff Schultz, got injured. There was no report on whether it was an upper body or a lower body injury.
The Caps ended up with a 43-31-8 record (94 points) and won the Southeast Division. By winning their division, they would be the third seed in the playoffs. They ended up with the same number of points as the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins.
The season-ending winning streak was an incredible feat for the Caps, to roar back to make the playoffs after being in dead last place on Thanksgiving and last in the Eastern Conference around New Year’s.
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