Over the course of an 82-game regular season, some games are memorable, while others are bound to be forgotten over the long haul. The Devil’s 3-2 shootout win over the Capitals Saturday night at Verizon Center will likely fit into the latter category.
Both teams failed to register 20 shots on goal — New Jersey had 19; the Capitals had 17 — in a game that was defined largely by miscues, a choppy ice surface and the two teams having faced off in New Jersey the night before.
The Capitals jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, which they took to the locker room after the first.
Troy Brouwer picked off an ill-advised cross-ice pass in the Devils zone by center Adam Henrique and faked out goalie Johan Hedberg before roofing the puck top shelf to put the Capitals up 1-0.
The home team extended the lead to 2-0 later in the period on the power play. With time expiring on the man-advantage, forward Jason Chimera scored his sixth of the season when he set a screen in front of Hedberg and deflected a John Carlson point shot in for the marker.
Then, the Capitals’ offense seemed to stall and the Devils came storming back in the second period to tie the game at 2-2, outshooting the Capitals 6-2 in the middle frame.
“They made it tough for us to get through the neutral zone,” Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. “I also thought their defensemen did a great job winning battls when we dumped it in. The strength of our team should be our forecheck and we weren’t able to establish that tonight.”
Devils forward Petr Sykora, who has seemingly been scoring on the Capitals for two decades, got the visitors on the board after beating goalie Michal Neuvirth off the faceoff. Center Dainius Zubrus cleanly beat Capitals’ center Matthieu Perreault, who has struggled in the dot to date (44.9%), to set up the tally.
Less than seven minutes later, at 18:54 of the second, the Devils hemmed the Capitals in their zone and took advantage of a failed clearing attempt by Carlson. Defenseman Bryce Salvador collected the puck and set up center Ryan Carter for a well-placed deflection.
“It was a real gutsy effort – in this building, down two to nothing to that team,” Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said. “To hold them to seven shots over the last 45 minutes, I thought it was a realy gritty effort.”
In part, the Capitals were largely in survival mode by that point. Already playing Laich on defense with John Erskine and Mike Green out of the lineup, they were down to just four regular defensemen after Roman Hamrlik left the game with an injury after the second. Defenseman Dennis Wideman ended up skating 33 minutes after a heavy workload the night before.
“I was starting to get a little tuckered at the end,” Wideman said. “But I think that when stuff like that happens when there’s injuries you just have to try to not push it too much.”
The teams were deadlocked after overtime and through three rounds of shootout until Devils forward David Clarkson scored to earn his team the extra point. Capitals forward Alexander Semin, fresh off being benched in the third period the night before, and another offensive zone penalty in the first period of this game, had a chance to extend the shootout for the Capitals, but was stopped by Hedberg.
“I thought he tried really hard,” Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said of Semin’s play. “He got an early penalty, he went for the puck. That wasn’t a lazy penalty…I thought his effort overall, he tried really hard and was engaged in the game.