Well, it was sweet while it lasted. Just 48 hours of unfamiliar bliss before the storm rolled in and washed it away. The Washington Capitals fell from being in first place in the Southeast Division, to being in second place with a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes this evening. OK, so the difference is only one measily standings point. These two teams will probably swap positions in the standings a few times before the real playoffs start. Meanwhile, we're starting to get a preview of that dance now. Let's just hope we have a date when the official invitations are handed out.
The first period opened up with Carolina's Scott Walker immediately taking down Quintin Laing. Washington's Matt Bradley waisted no time in letting Walker know that sort of thing was unacceptable behavior for a guest at Verizon Center, DC. At 3:56 the visitor's rudeness continued, as the Hurricanes' Eric Cole scored the first goal. After getting past Capitals defenders Milan Jurcina and Tom Poti, Cole went across the front of the net with netminder Brent Johnson sliding along between them. Then, Cole slowed down while Johnson's brakes failed, leaving a wide open entrance for Cole to park the puck inside. Less than two minutes later, Cole took down Boyd Gordon with a facewash holding move on the way down. The referee apparently didn't want to offend Cole by actually making a call on the infraction. Yeah, it was going to be another one of those evenings. John Erskine then had a go at Wade Brookbank, with the two of them each earning five minutes in the penalty box. It seems Donald Brashear had his heart set on being Brookbank's dancing partner, but Erskine had the gloves off in the blink of an eye, calling it first. We eventually found out that Erskine was injured and would not return. A few minutes later, Poti pushed down one of the 'canes by the sidewall in the Cap's defensive zone. No call on that one either. Then Washington waisted two consecutive power plays, only managing one shot during each. Before the period ended, Andrew Ladd increased Carolina's lead by netting a rebound.
.In the second, the Cap's got a golden oppurtunity, with 1:10 of a 5 on 3 power play. After that time elapsed without success, followed by failure on the remaing 5 on 4 advantage, the home crowed began to boo rather loudly. No matter how badly they're playing, I hate it when the fans boo the players. Of course, it's perfectly acceptable to let the ref's have it, though. Those familiar cheers did return toward the end of the period, as the Cap's killed off two consecutive penalties, and then Milan Jurcina and Alex Ovechkin both had breakaway scoringing chances.
Hope returned in the third period, as Alexander Semin circled the Hurricanes' net, and then sent in an unassisted goal. It was unofficially self assisted, for he backhanded his own rebound. Niclas Wallin then pushed him down. What class. The period did hold a few scoring chances especially toward the end. At one point, Semin took the puck out of the Cap's end with a beautiful spin around move, passing by the defender and sailing up the ice to the offensive zone. Later, Johnson made another fantastic save, keeping Washington within one goal. But, with less than 30 seconds left, Semin took a stupid slashing penalty. The Cap's hopes of evening up the score were dashed, as were their hopes of holding on to first place in the Southeast.
Washington is only 1 point out of first place. So, getting back on top is certainly a realistic and likely possibility. But, they will need to surge ahead in the win column if they want to make sure. Especially if they want to end up in a favorable playoff posistion instead of just barely making it in.
All Photos - AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta