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Postseason Notebook -- March

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Desperate Days – Faced with a 3-1 third period deficit in Atlanta on Mar. 21, the Capitals dug deep and came up with what was arguably their best period of the season. The Caps scored three times to take a 4-3 lead and then iced it with Boyd Gordon’s empty-netter in the waning seconds.

Ovechkin scored twice for the Caps and became the first NHL player in 12 years to score 60 goals in a season. He also became just the second Capital ever to reach that milestone, joining Dennis Maruk, who scored 60 in 1981-82.

The 22-year-old left wing made sure his milestone marker was a big one, it sparked a three-goal burst in a span of 5:02 that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for Washington.

“It’s a big win for us,” said Ovechkin after the game. “We played well in the first period. After we make a couple mistakes and they score three goals, we just say, ‘Guys, it’s our chance and we can’t stop. We fight for this all year. We can’t just let it go.’ It was a very big game for us and I’m happy for the team.

“We just started working. It’s all about work on our team. If we want it, we can beat every team. We started to play well in the beginning of the third period. We dominate them and they don’t have chances to score goal. We play three lines and everybody push each other, fight [for] each other and we get results.”

In addition to scoring twice, Ovechkin set up Backstrom’s game-winning goal and Gordon’s goal. He was plus-4 on the night.

Before the third period outburst in Atlanta, the Capitals had been 0-26-2 in games in which they trailed heading into the final frame. More than half (23 of 45) of Washington’s shots on goal for the game came in the third period, and the Caps outshot the Thrashers 23-2 in the final period.

Move Over, Dennis – Dennis Maruk established the Caps’ franchise record for most goals in a season in 1981-82 when he scored 60 goals. Maruk netted his 60th on Apr. 3, 1982 against the Maple Leafs’ Vincent Tremblay in a game televised on Hockey Night in Canada. The goal was his second of the game, and it came in Washington’s penultimate game of the season.

That record stood for more than a quarter century.

Maruk held the mark for nine days shy of 26 years, but he yielded to Ovechkin, who netted his 61st of the 2007-08 season against Carolina in Raleigh on Mar. 25 off a beautiful feed from center Backstrom. The goal gave Washington a 2-1 lead and helped the Caps pick up two desperately needed points as they went on to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Years from now, everyone will remember the goal Ovechkin scored that night in Raleigh, but there was a shift in the second period that absolutely typified the way he plays the game.

Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina lost his stick in the defensive zone, and Ovechkin quickly passed his stick to the big Caps blueliner. It’s always better for a forward to be without a stick than a defenseman in the defensive zone, but even better when the defenseman is given a stick from a forward who shoots the same as him. Both Jurcina and Ovechkin are right-handed shots.

After Ovechkin had sacrificed his stick, the puck came around the wall to the left of Caps goaltender Cristobal Huet. Ovechkin raced over and flung the puck out of the zone with his hand, giving him time to get to the bench for another branch. He literally galloped over to the bench, collected the new stick from head equipment manager Brock Myles, and then honed in on Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican, who had just taken control of the puck in front of his own bench.

Ovechkin freight-trained Hedican, just laid him out.

He didn’t score on that shift, but Ovechkin managed to display his hockey sense, defensive awareness, speed and physical brute force all in the span of several seconds.

“I just do what I can,” said Ovechkin. “I just give my stick to Juice, because Juice broke his stick and he’s a righty. I just go back to my spot, the pass comes to me and I just put it back in the neutral zone.

“Brock gave me a nice assist on the hit. It was pretty funny.”

Some of us will remember that sequence as much as the goal.

“I don’t know how many shots he had, but he must have had 10 on net,” said Boudreau after the game. “And some of the best bodychecks you’ll see all year. There’s not too many guys who can do all that.”

Flash Beats Bolts – Coming into the Caps’ Mar. 27 game in Tampa, Caps winger Tomas Fleischmann was without a point in his previous 10 games, the longest scoring drought of his NHL career. He was without a goal in 14 games. But the man known by his teammates as “Flash” netted the second game-winning goal of his NHL career and his first overtime game-winner in the league that night to give the Caps a third straight come-from-behind victory, a 4-3 overtime thriller over the Lightning.

Fleischmann, whose previous goal also came in Tampa Bay back on Feb. 16, had not collected a point since he recorded two assists in a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 26.

If not for an ailing teammate, Fleischmann would not have been on the ice for Washington in overtime.

“He picked a good time to get one,” said Caps Boudreau. “It’s funny the way fate works, because quite honestly if [Viktor] Kozlov was feeling any better, he would have been out there with Brooks [Laich] because those are the three units we go with in overtime. He didn’t, we threw Tom out [on the ice] and he came through.”

Kozlov blocked a Shane O’Brien slapshot late in the third period, and had to crawl off the ice.

Fleischmann has scored some huge goals in his AHL career, but none bigger at the NHL level than his game-winner against the Bolts.

“This one is pretty huge,” he said happily after the game. “At this point of the season we’re trying to get every point we can get. An OT winner, I’m happy.”

Road Killers – With their season quite literally on the line night in and night out, the Capitals came home from a season-long six-game road trip with a 5-1 record after a 3-0 win in Florida on Mar. 29.

Washington won each of its last four road games, its longest road winning streak since it put together a five-game run from Feb. 14-Mar. 7, 2001.

The win over the Panthers was Washington’s 20th road win of the season, the team’s most since it tied a team record in winning 22 games away from its former USAir Arena home in 1993-94. The Caps were 20-16-5 on the road in 2007-08.

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