It wasnt a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination, but it turned out to be productive for Washington. The Caps have won 10 straight home openers by virtue of this 4-3 overtime win against Carolina.
Whenever the Caps and Canes collide its a tight game, and this one stayed true to form. Six of the last 13 meetings with Carolina have gone to overtime or shootout, so most folks were ready for a long night.
Brooks Laich centered a line with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward and they seemed to click instantly. They wont thrive on tic-tac-toe passes, instead their game is going to revolve around the boards. They created a few scoring chances in the first period with their cycle, but didnt punch anything past Brian Boucher in goal for the Caniacs. Bouchers catching glove was sharp, as the Capitals failed on a pair of first period power plays.
Call it opening night jitters for the Caps, but they didnt seem to get into a good groove until well into the second period. Jeff Halpern teamed up with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks to create energy with a few strong hits, but nothing that led to breaking the scoreless deadlock.
The Canes 5-on-5 attack wasnt overly threatening against Michal Neuvirth, who continues to post a sharp record at Verizon.
Carolinas power-play success was a different story. The visitors were partial to stretching the Caps penalty killers with cross-rink passes and cranked up two Eric Staal PPGs as a result.
The game was scoreless for 31 minutes before Staal received a perfect pass from Jussi Jokinen (more from him later) to make it 1-zip.
DC did not wait long to respond. John Carlson has a habit of making very good outlet passes and the one he launched to Alex Semin was picture perfect. Semin walked in alone on Boucher from the red line and used his impressive stickhandling reach to deke around the Canes netminder, beating him with a backhand to tie the score.
Late in the second period, Chimera showed his skating speed to 19 year old defender Justin Faulk. The big winger had a head of steam barreling down his off-wing and managed to flip a forehand past Boucher, who very deep in the paint of the crease.
The 2-1 Caps lead lasted 18 seconds into the 3rd period. It was Staal again on the power-play, hiding on the weak side to jam a Jeff Skinner feed past Neuvirth.
The two clubs went back-n-forth in the tie game all the way until there was four minutes left in regulation. The Canes were livid when they were placed two-men down via penalties. Laich would convert on the 5-3, snaring a rebound off the backboards and flicking a backhand by Boucher.
Protecting a 3-2 lead, the Caps werent able to finish off their guests in regulation. With Boucher on the bench for the extra skater, Jokinen parked himself at the post and promptly batted the game-tying goal past Neuvirth with 1:19 to go.
Then things became really interesting. Semin took a boarding penalty right as time expired in period three. The Canes had a couple of very good scoring chances skating 4-on-3, but Neuvirth foiled them, making a huge glove save on Tomas Kaberle.
The Canes committed a penalty during that same power-play to create one of the most rare forms of NHL action, 3-on-3.
Once that open-ice skate elapsed, the home team grabbed the power play and would send their rabid fans home happy. Mike Green found some room at the right point, closed in to about 35 feet and hammered a slapshot that squirted off a defender and through Boucher for the win.
Watch out for that first step, its a doozy!
Game 2 is Monday night, back on CSN against Tampa Bay. Be sure to check us out when Geico Sportsnet Central begins at 6:30.