A near 100-point team, hosting a hopeless, 60-point team, ought to win comfortably, no? Not when the underdog is the Carolina Hurricanes and the favored adversary is the Caps. The ‘Canes, no matter the month in the calendar, no matter how low the stakes, skate up in the proverbial grill against the Caps just about every time.
“They scare the heck out of me,” Bruce Boudreau said in the aftermath of his team’s 4-3 overtime survival test against the 13th-in-the-East Hurricanes. The Capitals, who has a 13-game home winning streak snapped on Monday night, earned a standings point in their 15th consecutive game at Verizon Center.
Carolina was the last team to enter Verizon Center and emerge victorious in regulation time, back on December 28, a 6-3 smackdown that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. That game was an outlier in this longstanding grudge match. The Caps won a pair of one-goal games preceding the end-of-year blowout. Wednesday night at Verizon Center it was more migraines from the ‘Canes for the Caps.
There’s precious little chance of Carolina qualifying for the postseason, and that’s a good thing as far as Boudreau is concerned. He made plain his preference not to see them in the postseason.
But this wasn’t just another ornery and closely contested Caps-’Canes affair; it marked the first between the clubs since last week’s deadline trades which sent Brian Pothier and Oskar Osala to Raleigh and Scott Walker and Joe Corvo to D.C. Pothier’s homecoming was a strange one.
“I’ve been here for a long time,” the weirdly white-sweatered no. 5 said. “The family is still here, they’re in school, we’re invested in the community, and we spend our summers here. We love it here.”
“To come back, it was really weird. It was awkward playing against the guys. A couple of times I felt myself wanting to tap a guy on the shin pads who had the red jersey instead of the white.”
A microcosm of Carolina’s fiery determination against the Caps could be seen Wednesday in the battering ram ethos of left wing Tuomo Ruutu. The seventh-year pro has nice numbers on the season — 13 goals, 19 assists — but on Wednesday he went wrecking ball against the Caps, delivering a team-best six hits, many of them punishing. In fact, he crushed Nicklas Backstrom in the third period, back behind Jose Theodore’s goal, igniting a vengeance-minded Capitals’ captain to go on a wrecking spree of his own on the same shift.
For the second consecutive game the Capitals surged to a 2-0 lead over their visitors but again couldn’t hold it, pushed again into an extra session. Their even getting that far was contingent upon another strong outing from Jose Theodore, who turned aside a penalty shot by Brandon Sutter in the first period and a pair of Hurricanes’ breakaways later on.
Theodore got help from some big young guns who’d been quiet of late in the goal scoring department. Alexander Semin opened the scoring — he has 22 goals in 27 career games against Carolina — and Mike Green added a pair of tallies, his 16th and 17th on the season.
Boudreau on Wednesday made a pair of surprising scratches of two players who’ve performed well for him in 2010 — Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr. They were simply players whose numbers came up in the sitting game this team must employ from here on out.
“It is March 10th and the playoffs don’t start until about April 18th, so I don’t want to set the lineup and then have someone get hurt and have to put someone in who has been out for 30 days,” Boudreau said, “it’s not fair to the player and it’s not fair to the team.”
“We’ll keep rotating guys in and out of the lineup to keep them fresh and sharp . . . they’re doing it [sitting] for the common goal.”
It was Tomas Fleischmann’s turn to sit against Dallas on Monday night, and on Wednesday, on his very first shift with center Eric Belanger, in overtime, his one-timer past Manny Legace spoke dramatically for his remaining in the lineup.
“It’s a little message — don’t sit me out again,” Flash said, flashing a big victory grin.