WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Washington Capitals played perhaps their worst period of the year to begin the game and never recovered as they lost 5-3 to the visiting Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. Rene Bourque was the star for Calgary scoring one early goal and added two assists in the victory.
The Caps had plenty of reasons for their poor play on Sunday. The 3 p.m. start time is awkward at best for an Eastern Conference team and Calgary came in angry after getting drilled by the Boston Bruins 5-0 Saturday afternoon in Boston. The Capitals also have little to play for the rest of the season, being all but assured to finish in first place in the Eastern Conference while Calgary six points in back of Colorado for the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Capitals played their sloppiest period of the year in the first and found themselves down 4-0 going into the locker room. Ales Kotalik was the first player to get on the scoreboard with a first period goal at the 2:23 mark. After a Rene Bourque shot was mishandled by Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore, Kotalik found the rebound to the left of the Washington goal and bounced his shot off of the skate of the goalie and into the back of the net for his 10th goal of the season.
Later in the period, with the Flames on the power play after Mike Green closed his hand over the puck, defenseman Ian White scored on the backhand to give Calgary a 2-0 lead. Flames star Jarome Iginla took a slap shot from the right side of the goal that caromed off Theodore to White who banked the puck off the goaltender’s back into the net. It was White’s 11th goal of the season and gave the Flames a quick 2-0 lead. Both goals hit Theodore before entering the night, not an optimistic start for the home team.
The Flames struck only 126 seconds later when Bourque fed streaking defenseman Jay Bouwmeester who tipped the puck behind Theodore to give Calgary a commanding 3-0 lead. The goal prompted Head Coach Bruce Boudreau to pull Theodore from the game and replace him with youngster Semyon Varlamov. Theodore has been playing terrific hockey lately – he’s 17-0-2 in his past 19 results – and hopefully the performance on Sunday was just a hiccup in his otherwise strong season.
Commenting on Theodore’s struggles, Boudreau noted, “I just thought he was fighting the puck – every shot was fighting the puck. I didn’t think he had it today. He will be back in on Tuesday. He has played an awful lot of good games that have kept us in during the first period.”
Once Varlamov entered the game, a hit from behind on Jason Chimera landed Cory Sarich in the penalty box but the Capitals failed to convert on the power-play opportunity. Both players also received five minutes for fighting in the scuffle after the hit. After the fight, Nicklas Hagman flipped a backhand on goal that trickled through the screened Varlamov’s five-hole, giving Calgary a 4-0 advantage with 20 seconds left in the period. Matt Stajan, although not receiving the point on the play, set the screen to obstruct Varlamov from viewing the shot. All four goals scored by the visitors in the first period could be characterized as questionable judgment from the goaltenders. It was only the second time all season the Caps have trailed by four goals. Those two stretches lasted for 9 minutes and 58 seconds.
Alexander Ovechkin began the Washington comeback with a power-play goal early in the second period at the 3:49 mark, beating Mikka Kiprusoff. Just as a 5-on-3 opportunity expired, Ovechkin streaked down the right side of the ice and beat Kiprusoff glove side to score the goal. It was Ovechkin’s 46th goal of the season and his 99th point, and cut the Capitals deficit to a manageable three goals early in the second period.
The goal that broke the Capitals back was a Bourque strike at the 17:34 mark to give Washington a 5-1 lead. Bourque spun around two Caps defenders and flipped a backhand on goal that struck Varlamov and popped up into the air, finally ending up in the back of the goal giving Calgary the commanding four-goal lead once again.
The Capitals fought back with a Dave Steckel goal early in the third period and then a Matthieu Perreault strike to cut the deficit to 5-3 but that was as close as Washington would come.
Washington will continue their home stand with games against the surging Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night and the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night who are fighting for the last spot in the playoffs. Calgary will return home for a game against the red-hot Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night.