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Caps come up empty in San Jose again

by Eric Gilmore
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The names and faces have changed, but one thing has remained the same for more 18 years whenever the Washington Capitals have faced San Jose at the Shark Tank: They don't win.

San Jose protected its home ice yet again Saturday night, beating the Capitals 5-2 at HP Pavilion thanks to goals by Jason Demers, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Torrey Mitchell. The Capitals haven't won at the Shark Tank since beating San Jose on Oct. 30, 1993. Since then, the Sharks have had 11 wins and one tie – a 3-3 affair in 1998 -- at home against Washington.

"I think every team has that one building or rink or team that for some reason, it just doesn't go right," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Whether Washington's is at San Jose, I don't know. I don't know what they feel or sense when they come in, but I know we have our buildings that we still try and find a way to get a win."

Dennis Wideman and Joel Ward scored goals for the Caps, who had their four-game winning streak snapped.

The Sharks came into the game on a 7-1-1 roll and with a three-game winning streak that they extended to four despite playing their fourth game in six nights. They begin a four-game road trip Tuesday at Minnesota and play seven of their next nine games on the road.

After a scoreless first period, the Sharks built a 2-1 lead in a high-scoring second on goals by Demers and Burns, who scored on the power play at 19:51. Ward tied it 2-2 just 44 seconds into the third, taking a pass in front of the crease from Wideman and ripping the puck past Antti Niemi.

But Patrick Marleau scored to put the Sharks ahead 3-2 just 16 seconds later, and Vlasic made it 4-2 at 8:51 with a 4-on-4 goal, beating Tomas Vokoun.
Vlasic, one of three Sharks defensemen to score, said he knew that the Capitals hadn't won at San Jose for a long time but wasn't aware their last win at HP Pavilion came in 1993.

"I was only six, just starting to play hockey," Vlasic said. "That's a long drought."

A wide-open Marleau scored the game-winner from short range, just right of the crease, after Joe Thornton sent a backwards pass from the other side of the goal. Marleau had two assists to go with his 15th goal.

"It would have been nice to kill that one going into the third," Caps center Jeff Halpern said. "I should have had a block, had an extra couple chances to get it out earlier than that. And then when we tied it up in the beginning of the third, you don't want to give them more chances than they need. It would have been nice to play in that tie a little bit and not to play catch-up.

Vlasic gave the Sharks a two-goal edge while Washington's Alex Ovechkin (roughing) and San Jose's Brad Winchester (boarding) were in the box. Winchester leveled Washington forward Alexander Semin, and Ovechkin quickly retaliated, knocking Winchester to the ice from behind and landing on top of him.

"It was a physical game," Winchester said. "I came down the wall and finished a check. I think Ovechkin was just coming in and trying to stand up for a teammate, so you have to respect that."

The Sharks had to like that trade -- Winchester for Ovechkin, a two-time Hart Trophy winner  who had a seven-game points streak before being blanked Saturday.

Vlasic got a pass in the slot from Ryane Clowe, knocked it down with his skate then banged his own rebound past Vokoun for his third goal of the season.

"I'd have to put it at the top," Vlasic said, as far as the skill involved in his goal. "Knocking it down with the foot is the highlight right there. Sticking with the play and scoring at the end."'

Torrey Mitchell added an empty-netter.

The Caps played without center Nicklas Backstrom, their leading scorer, who was elbowed in the jaw by Calgary's Rene Bourque on Tuesday night. Washington coach Dale Hunter said he just wanted to be "careful" with Backstrom and that he didn't suffer a setback. Backstrom missed a game for just the sixth time in his career. Semin returned to the lineup after missing the Calgary game with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Mike Green, who has missed much of the season with ankle and groin problems, left in the second period and didn't return after his groin tightened.

Ovechkin had his points streak snapped, but not before giving McLellan a few scares.

"I held my breath every time he had the puck," McLellan said. "He's such a good player. As he comes up on a rush, he's a threat to score every time. He's a big man that can really fire it. He always uses the opposition's d-man as a screen. He's not afraid to shoot through legs or around somebody. I still thought he was dangerous down the stretch."

Demers gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 5:15 of the second with a long bank shot off the new livelier boards at HP Pavilion. He sent a slap shot from the blue line that went left of the crease. The puck hit the boards, ricocheted toward the crease, bounced off an unsuspecting Vokoun's left skate and trickled over the goal line.

"I have to thank the arena guys and the ownership for putting those in," Demers said. "I'm happy to get that bounce. I was trying to get it on net but it just hit a pad. We could say I was trying to get it off the end boards. I just got a lucky bounce and it ping-ponged its way in there."

The Caps answered at 6:37 with Wideman's power-play goal. With Winchester in the box for goaltender interference, Wideman scored just 26 seconds into the power play, taking a sharp-angled Troy Brouwer pass from behind the net and beating Niemi.

The Sharks grabbed the lead back on Burns' power-play goal with Wideman in the box for high-sticking. Dan Boyle, who had three assists, sent Burns a pass above the left circle, and he blasted a long shot through traffic, beating Vokoun to the far side.

"We had a couple of breakdowns, and against a team like that, they make you pay," Wideman said.

It came as no surprise that the veteran Vokoun, in his first season with Washington, was in goal for the Caps. The former Predator and Panther was 16-8-1 lifetime against San Jose before Saturday and had gone 10-0-1 in his past 11 games against the Sharks.

The Caps and Sharks skated to a scoreless tie in the first period, but there was still plenty of action, thanks in large part to San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray. Just over five minutes into the game, Murray leveled Halpern with a huge hit along the boards in San Jose's end. Later in the period Murray notched his second knockdown, blasting forward Jason Chimera. Between Murray's hits, Clowe took a long run and knocked Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik into the boards.

Murray finished with four hits in the period, but the Caps actually outhit San Jose 16-12.

Mitchell was back in the lineup Saturday after being a healthy scratch for the first time this season Thursday against Columbus. McLellan benched Mitchell because he wasn't making a big enough impact on games with his speed and tenacity.

"He sure played well," McLellan said of Mitchell. "I thought he was a factor in the game. First on a lot of loose pucks, finished checks, threw first shots on goal, a very reliable player, and that's what he is. He's got to leave his mark on a game every night. We're human. We have to be reminded sometimes, and Mitchie got the message and responded well."
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