As we were leaving Rexall Place there were several Oilers team officials who couldnt help but comment on how strong the Capitals looked in the first 10 minutes of the third period. The phrase they kept using was that, at times, the visiting team appeared to be playing at hyper speed or warp speed. Unfortunately for Washington, Edmonton goalie Nikolai Khabibulin turned back the clock to his star-studded ways of the early 2000s and put a halt to the Caps seven-game win streak.
The story of this game turned out to be special teams and, in particular, just how many times the Caps would be shorthanded as the result of penalty calls. Referees Stephane Auger and Dan OHalloran sent players to the sin-bin one by one in the first 40 minutes, and most every time it was a Cap who was dragging his tail to the box.
At one point the power play chances were 8-to-1 in favor of Edmonton. Bruce Boudreau became more and more infuriated with the officials as the night went along. Every lift-check that caught a glove was a hook, every small chop that snapped a stick was a slash; the refs were determined to call this one by the book, and the Caps were too late to notice.
The Oilers are an exciting young team, and I mean really young; the kind of kids that havent had their drivers licenses for long and remind you of your paper-boy. But these youngsters all have rich pedigrees and are oozing with talent, which will help form a squad to be reckoned with before too long.
The Edmonton line that has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins centering Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle has speed and skill to burn. Hall and Eberle converted power-play goals for the victorious Oilers; the Hall goal off a beautiful passing play, the Eberle strike, a lay-up directly off a long-rebound that escaped Tomas Vokoun.
Both Vokoun and Khabibulin had their moments tonight, but Khabibulins third-period performance stole the show.
Khabibulin surrendered a slapshot goal to Karl Alzner in the opening frame, but from there on out he was perfect.
If you only watched the first 10 minutes of the third period, you would have been convinced that it was only a matter of time before the Caps eventually tied the score and took the lead. But the 38-year old Bulin-Wall was magnificent, sprawling from post-to-post and flashing his pads like it was 2004 all over again in Tampa Bay. The Capitals had six quality chances to score in the first three minutes of the third and probably that many or more in the last three minutes.
The refs kindly gave the Caps a couple of power-play opportunities down the stretch, but not even a unit that was 6 for its last 15 could dent the Oilers keeper, who finished with 34 saves compared to 17 for Vokoun.
Seven of Khabibulins saves came off Alex Ovechkin, who whistled a snapshot off the topside of the crossbar in the last minute of play with Washington skating 6-on-4.
Earlier in the day Oilers Coach Tom Renney was addressing the media, and summed up the Caps with an interesting phrase. He said that with several new pieces in place, coupled with the fact that the Caps have learned to play both offense and defense, it appears as if they have completed the loop in becoming what a championship team should look like.
Heres hoping they leave the penalties behind and look more like themselves in Vancouver Saturday.
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