WASHINGTON – The Washington Capitals had been doing an excellent job of locking down games in the third period this season before letting a two-goal lead slip away Wednesday night.
Alexander Semin bailed them out anyway. Semin sent the game to overtime with a power-play goal late in the final period and sealed a 5-4 shootout victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center with a blistering slap shot from close range.
Semin, who also set up Washington’s first goal with a beautiful pass, is now tied for the team lead in goals with seven and has five points in his past two games.
"It is funny because he was sick tonight and we didn't know if he would be scratched or not until after warm-ups,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He said he wanted to play and he becomes the hero."
Washington led 3-1 after 40 minutes, but Toronto rallied with three goals in just more than three minutes to claim the lead. Mike Brown started the comeback with his first goal of the season at 4:14 of the third.
Capitals forward D.J. King lost the puck when he tried to carry it out of the defensive zone, and John Mitchell sent a past to Tomas Kaberle for a shot from the top of the left circle that hit Brown’s pants on the way in. Yielding third-period goals after taking leads was a big problem a season ago for the Capitals, but Washington had only allowed five markers in the third period in the first 11 games of this campaign.
"We had that power play to start the third period and that was the momentum-changer," Washington defenseman Mike Green said. "Either we go up 4-1 or we don't score and they come back with pressure. We didn't score and they were coming hard after that."
Kris Versteeg tied the score at three 48 seconds later. He split the Washington defensemen, took a pass from Mike Komisarek and put a shot past Michal Neuvirth on a breakaway for his second of the season.
After Eric Fehr went to the penalty box for an offensive zone penalty – Washington's third of the game – Tyler Bozak converted the rebound of a Kaberle point shot at 7:17 to give Toronto the lead.
"I think we sat back a little bit too much and they came out hard in the third," Capitals center Boyd Gordon said. "We were kind of hard on our heels and looked a little sluggish, but we found a way to get back tied up and get the win. We've got to do a little better job with the leads, but tonight we got away with it."
Semin, who had committed the previous two offensive-zone infractions, evened the contest at four with 5:38 remaining in regulation. His power-play goal came after Nicklas Backstrom nearly scored on a stuff attempt and an Alex Ovechkin shot deflected off Brooks Laich's skate and just past the left post.
Ovechkin gave the Capitals the lead in the shootout in between a pair of Neuvirth saves, and Semin finished the team’s fourth victory in five contests.
"The goalie was staying inside the goal so it was pointless trying to deke around him so I just decided to shoot right there and then," Semin said through a translator. "It would have been too hard to try and get around him."
Added Toronto defenseman Francois Beauchemin: "There is no excuse for that one. We just have to play our own game and be ready to go every night. It's too bad we didn't get two points, but at least we got one."
One game after blistering the Calgary Flames for six goals in the second period, the Capitals put three past Toronto netminder Jonas Gustavsson in the middle 20 minutes.
Semin sent a pass through the middle of Toronto's penalty-killing unit and Green snapped a shot from the right circle into the top corner for his second goal of the season at 6:05. After registering only two points in his first seven games of the season Green has four in the past two, including his first two goals.
The Capitals have scored five power-play goals in the past two games after producing only four in the first nine games of the season.
"We are finally going back to the basics and creating the chances that we were creating last year," Green said. "I think at the start of the year we were making the wrong plays at the wrong times and it has taking almost a month and half to click again. It feels good out there."
Jason Chimera and Tomas Fleischmann scored 53 seconds apart to give Washington a two-goal advantage. Boyd Gordon went into the right corner and sent the puck toward the net. Chimera was there to direct it past Gustavsson for his third of the season at 10:35.
Fleischmann missed Laich on a 2-on-1 pass, but Laich collected the puck and sent it back to the right point for Carlson. Fleischmann deflected his shot and through Gustavsson's legs for his fourth goal of the campaign. Laich and Fleischmann had combined for two points in the previous six games.
Nikolai Kulemin put the Maple Leafs in front with the lone goal of the first period. He shot the puck wide left from the top of the right circle, but then lifted Matt Bradley's stick to steal the puck near the left circle, skated around defenseman John Erskine and waited out Neuvirth before putting a shot off the inside of the far post at 14:29.
The Maple Leafs found some offense, but lost their fourth straight and first without captain Dion Phaneuf, who is expected to miss four-to-six weeks after surgery to repair a cut on his leg. It had been seven games since Toronto last scored more than three goals, but the Maple Leafs were unable to hold a late lead they worked so furiously to obtain.
"Yeah they did, but we still gave up four goals," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said of his other defensemen stepping up in Phaneuf's absence. "We've been a lot stingier than that this year. We've still got to find a way to play better."