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Postseason Notebook -- January

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Go Johnny, Go – John Erskine’s first period goal in the Caps’ win over Florida on Jan. 19 was his second of the season and first since opening night when he tallied in Washington’s 3-1 win at Atlanta. The goal matched his single-season career high; he scored two goals (in just 16 games) as a member of the Dallas Stars in 2002-03.

Erskine’s goal gave him eight points this season, a new single-season career high for the big defenseman. He totaled seven points in 29 games with the Capitals in 2006-07 and finished with nine points in 51 games with Washington in 2007-08.

Swedish History Lesson –
Center Rolf Edberg hailed from Stockholm and was – along with defenseman Leif Svensson – one of the first two European players to play with the Capitals.

On Mar. 10, 1979, Edberg established a Capitals rookie record when he recorded four assists in a single game. Nearly 28 years later, Backstrom matched that mark with four assists in the Jan. 19 win over the Panthers.

After the game, Backstrom said he had never heard of Edberg, which isn’t surprising because he played in the NHL years before Backstrom was born in 1987. But Backstrom’s father Anders, who was a 10th round draft choice of the New York Rangers likely played against Edberg.

After finishing up in the NHL, Edberg returned to his native Sweden where he played the 1981-82 season with AIK Solna of the Swedish Elite League. Anders Backstrom played that season and the next one with Brynas IF Gavle of the SEL.

Back-to-Back Backstrom –
Backstrom followed up his four-assist performance against the Panthers with another four-helper night in the Caps’ thrilling 6-5 shootout win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Jan. 21. In doing so, he became the first rookie in NHL history ever to record back-to-back games with four assists.

Johnny On the Spot – Brent Johnson has been a backup goaltender in the league for the last four seasons, the last three with Washington. As a backup, his starts on home ice are generally few and far between.

After going 2-8-3 at the Verizon Center in 13 starts during his first two seasons with the Capitals, Johnson exceeded that home ice win total in a span of just 10 days. He defeated Ottawa on Jan. 15, Florida on Jan. 19 and Toronto on Jan. 24 at the Phone Booth.
“Tonight they outskated us,” said Boudreau after the Maple Leafs game. “I think they played a lot better tonight than they did last night. Our goalie won us the game.”

The win over Toronto continued a strong run between the pipes for Johnson. In his previous seven appearances (six starts), Johnson went 5-1 with a 2.05 goals against average and a .926 save pct. He did not give up more than three goals in any of those six starts, and allowed two or fewer goals in five of the six.

Another Rung on the Ladder – By virtue of its win over Toronto on Jan. 24, the Caps climbed into sole possession of second place in the Southeast Division standings, just a single point behind front-running Carolina.

Carolina led the division with 52 points at that juncture. The Caps had 51, the third-place Thrashers had 50, the fourth-place Panthers had 49 and cellar-dwelling Tampa Bay had 45.

The Capitals were three points behind the New York Islanders and New York Rangers, the current co-occupants of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

When Boudreau took over behind the Washington bench almost exactly two months earlier, the Caps were 14 points behind the Hurricanes for the Southeast Division lead.

Powering Up – Laich’s first period power play goal on Jan. 24 was his first extra-man tally of the season and the fourth of his NHL career. He became the 11th different skater to record a power play goal for Washington this season.

After netting one power play goal in his first 60 games of the season, Laich scored seven of them in the last 22 games of 2007-08.

White Hot Russian – Viktor Kozlov’s goal in the third period proved to be the game-winner in the Jan. game against Toronto. It was his ninth goal of the season – tying him with Nicklas Backstrom for fourth on the team – and his fifth in his last four games. Kozlov’s previous game-winning tally came on Feb. 7, 2007 when he was with the Islanders in a 2-0 win over Philadelphia.

Extension for 87 –
After the Jan. 24 game, the Capitals announced that they had signed veteran left wing Donald Brashear, 36, to a one-year contract extension. Brashear surpassed the 900-game and 200-point plateaus for his NHL career in 2007-08, he second season with the Caps.

Not many guys with Brashear’s role manage to survive the rigors of the NHL for 14 years, as Brashear has.

“That’s exactly what he said when we sat down,” said Caps GM George McPhee. “We did it in about five minutes. He said, ‘There aren’t many guys like me around.’ I agreed with him and we did it.

“He has a real presence. He knows that role as well as anyone ever has. And he makes our team better.”

One for the Ages –
The 14,930 patrons in attendance on Jan. 31 night at Verizon Center will remember the night far longer than Alex Ovechkin’s NHL career will last. The Capitals’ superstar willed his team to a 5-4 overtime win over Montreal win and pieced together a signature performance for the home folks in the process.

Ovechkin has had hat tricks before. He has had four goals in a game before. He has had five points in a game before. Ovechkin did all those things against the Habs on Jan. 31, but this time he was involved in all of Washington’s offense, and most of the goals were of the superlative variety. And it was his first hat trick in front of the home folks.

Here’s what the stat line will read: four goals, one assist, five points, plus-4, 24:52, six shots on goal, five hits, one high stick to the face, one cut lip and one broken nose.

An Alexei Kovalev high stick caught Ovechkin up on the visor and stunned him on the game’s first shift. Ovechkin tried to glove a puck but didn’t get all of it, and it clipped him in the mouth, opening up a small cut. A Francois Bouillon check led to the broken beak, as Bouillon hammered Ovechkin with a clean shoulder hit along the boards in front of the Washington bench at 7:46 of the second period. At that stage of the game, the Caps led 2-0 and Ovechkin has just gotten started with his offensive pyrotechnics.

On his first goal, Ovechkin dangled away from a handful of Montreal defenders in the left circle, then threaded a pass to Milan Jurcina at the blueline. As the defense drifted away from Ovechkin, Jurcina fired hard slap pass back to the dynamic left winger, and he cranked a one-timer that Montreal netminder Cristobal Huet never saw.

Ovechkin picked up a primary assist on Viktor Kozlov’s 10th goal of the year early in the second period. That goal was a rod hockey (or table hockey) goal. Kozlov camped at the top of the paint and put his stick on the ice. That’s all he had to do. Ovechkin fired a pass from the low half wall and it banked off Kozlov’s stationary stick and went in.

Give Nicklas Backstrom and Kozlov both some credit on Ovechkin’s third goal. Backstrom began to break the puck out of his own end, saw something he didn’t like and stopped at his own blueline to regroup. It changed the cadence of the play, and Backstrom quickly threaded a pass to Kozlov, who gained the offensive zone. Kozlov threaded the puck off Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik skate, and onto Ovechkin’s blade. Ovechkin fought off a defender and flipped the puck short side from in tight, over Huet’s shoulder to give Washington a 3-0 lead.

In the third period, Ovechkin took a feed from Kozlov and gained the zone. He set up Canadiens’ defenseman Mark Streit as a screen, then fired an improbably precise and completely jaw-dropping shot that went through Streit’s legs and rose swiftly until it zipped over Huet’s left shoulder and into the cage.

On the overtime game-winner, he took a hit along the boards and regained his feet. He went to the net and waited as Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz slid a pass across the top of the crease to Ovechkin. After partially fanning on his first bid, he made sure his second attempt went into the vacant net, the final brushstroke of a 63-minute, 34-second masterpiece.

Superlatives –
Here’s what else as a result of Ovechkin’s magnificent performance against Montreal:
  • Ovechkin scored his fourth career overtime game-winner. Only Peter Bondra and Kelly Miller have more as a Capital; both have five.
  • With 70 points on the season, Ovechkin led in the NHL scoring race for the first time in his NHL career. He also led the league with 43 goals.
  •  He joined Bondra as the only the second Capital with three consecutive 40-goal seasons.
  •  It was his fourth career hat trick. Only Bondra (19), Mike Gartner (13) and Dennis Maruk (10) have more as a Capital.
  •  It was his second career four-goal game. Both came in the previous 14 games/34 days.
  • It was his second career five-point game.
  • It was his first career plus-4 game.
“Oh, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said afterwards. “I go to a Web site about the Capitals and the fans want to see ‘Ovechkin hat trick, Ovechkin hat trick,’ I am just happy I could please them, it’s pretty fun.”

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