Saturday, February 14, 2009

Young Stars Shine as Caps Dump Bolts

While Mike Green's record-setting goal in the second period was the headline of Saturday night's 5-1 win over Tampa Bay, there were a couple of guys who were solid in the limelight.

Michal Neuvirth was terrific in his NHL debut, stopping all but one of Tampa Bay's 32 shots - including stopping a first-period breakaway by Vincent Lecavalier with the Caps holding just a 1-0 lead, and earing his first victory of his career with his dad watching from the press box as part of Washington's fathers' trip.

Alexander Semin also returned from a one-game absence to notch the Caps' first goal of the game and also added a pair of helpers - including the only assist on Green's record-setting tally.

But, the night was about the Caps' young defenseman, who eclipsed a mark set by Mike O'Connell in 1983-84 thanks to a pair of ex-Capitals. With Jeff Halpern in the box for hooking early in the second period and Washington enjoying a 3-0 lead, the Caps were feeding Green to try to see if he could set the mark. Then, Green carried the puck in off a pass from Semin and took a shot that was blocked by another ex-Cap, Matt Pettinger. The puck went up in the air, and then was back on Green's stick, who fired it past Karri Ramo for his 22nd goal of the year.

Not only is Green the first defenseman ever to score in eight straight games, he also is the first player in the NHL to do it this season. In fact, the last player to score goals in even seven straight was Alexander Ovechkin, who did it in his rookie season of 2005-06.

Now, Green is one game shy of the Capitals' goal-scoring mark by any player, which was set both by Alan Haworth (1985-86) and Mike Gartner (1986-87), and also is halfway to the NHL record set in 1921-22 by the old Ottawa Senators' Punch Broadbent. The last player to take a serious run at Broadbent's mark was Mario Lemieux, who scored in a dozen straight games in the 1992-93 season.

The NHL allowed the Caps to celebrate en masse with Green after the strike, and overall, it was a night to enjoy as they came out firing against the 'Ning to take command early.

Semin beat starting goaltender Mike McKenna 5:02 into the contest with a wrist shot past the young keeper, then after Neuvirth stopped the Tampa captain, the Caps poured it on late in the stanza.

Alex Ovechkin took advantage of an odd-man break, firing home his 38th goal of the season to give Washington a 2-0 lead with 6:39 left in the period, then Shaone Morrisonn really put the Bolts in trouble with a goal with just :40 left in the period and chased McKenna out of the net.

At that point, the Caps seemed to want to get Green the puck to break the record, and he didn't disappoint. With Halpern off, he fired the record tally, and the Caps were in full control.

Neuvirth's only blemish was Ryan Malone's tip-in goal nearly halfway through the second, but he moves the record for this season by Capitals' rookie netminders to 3-0 with his effort.

Eric Fehr capped the scoring in the third to salt it away, and set up tomorrow afternoon's game in Sunrise.

After being flat against New York, the Caps put on a dominant performance against the Lightning, putting their foot down and establishing an early presence against Tampa Bay. Now, they will look to move closer to salting away the Southeast Division title against the Panthers Sunday afternoon, as they can take a 13-point edge with just three head-to-head meetings left after tomorrow's clash.

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