So a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Canadian national TV might open some eyes.
“Exactly,” said Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig. “Playing in front of a national audience and getting a chance to show the rest of the country we’re a good hockey team, this was very meaningful tonight.”
Kolzig dazzled in making 35 saves as the Caps held off a third-period rally by the Leafs.
“Olie is 95 per cent of our team,” said star winger Alexander Ovechkin, forgetting his own immense importance. “He made great saves for us tonight, especially in the third period. He’s unbelievable.”
Ovechkin tied for the NHL lead with his 24th goal, while Alexander Semin and Dainius Zubrus also scored for the Capitals (16-12-7), who led 3-0 after two periods and then held on for dear life in the third as Toronto pressed hard to tie the game.
“I think Toronto was maybe a little embarrassed, down 3-0 at home in their own rink on Hockey Night In Canada, so I knew they would come out hard in the third period,” said Kolzig.
But the comeback fell short and the Leafs enter the Christmas break on a three-game losing streak after seemingly turning around their season with a three-game win streak just before that. Overall, they’re 3-9-1 in their last 12 games and fell to last place in the Northeast Division after wins by Boston and Ottawa on Saturday.
“We win three games, then lose three games and give it all back,” said a frustrated Mats Sundin. “We need to be a better team, especially on home ice (now 8-9-2 at home).”
Sundin had both goals for the Leafs (16-16-5), who were without front-line forwards Kyle Wellwood (groin), Alexei Ponikarovsky (shoulder) and Michael Peca (broken leg) – the latter out three to four months after undergoing surgery Saturday.
“If you would have told me before the season that we would be .500 through 40 games (37 actually), I would have said that wasn’t acceptable,” said Sundin.
“Even though it’s frustrating to go into the break, we can’t get too down on ourselves,” Sundin added. “We need to bounce back Tuesday (against Minnesota) and start a new streak. We’re good enough to be a playoff team.”
The Leafs outshot Washington 11-7 in the first period and 13-11 in the second period, including a failed breakaway attempt by Leafs winger Jeff O’Neill 30 seconds into the game, but in reality never looked terribly dangerous until the third period.
Ovechkin, now tied with Atlanta’s Marian Hossa atop NHL goal scorers, broke a 0-0 tie with 7:59 to go in the second period on a Caps power play, pouncing on a rebound in front, shifting quickly from backhand to forehand and sending a wrist shot top corner on Andrew Raycroft’s glove side. The Leafs goalie just moments before had stopped Semin on a breakaway.
Semin got on the board, however, less then two minutes later when he ripped a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle on a Caps power play, a sensational dart that beat Raycroft top corner on the glove side and even drew ooohs and ahhhs from the partisan Leafs crowd.
Zubrus made it 3-0 with 1:33 left in the second period, again on the power play, coming from behind the net with a nifty move and beating Raycroft with a wrist shot stick side.
The second period didn’t end before Toronto’s Darcy Tucker and Washington’s Brian Sutherby got into a wild fight, Tucker trying to wake up his teammates.
Sundin energized a crowd of 19,488 at Air Canada Centre with a pair of goals just 14 seconds apart to make it a one-goal game. First Sundin scored on a penalty shot at 3:16 of the third period. Then he came roaring in on the ensuing faceoff and banged in a rebound at 3:30.
The ACC was suddenly as loud as its been all season long. Sundin’s fist pump after the second goal was an unusual show of emotion for the 35-year-old Swede.
The crowd got more of their money’s worth moments later when tough guys Donald Brashear of Washington and Wade Belak of Toronto squaring off a surprising draw that had the Leafs bench up and banging sticks on the boards in appreciation of Belak.
Seconds after the fight, Sundin had a chance to blow the roof of the ACC, but Kolzig stopped him on a breakaway.
The Leafs got handed a power play with 1:47 to go in the third period and pulled Raycroft for a two-man advantage, but still couldn’t tie the game. Bryan McCabe’s needless roughing penalty with five seconds left ended all chances.
Notes: Ponikarovsky is expected back in three weeks, while Wellwood is day to day … Kris Newbury was called up from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in place of Peca and played in his first NHL game Saturday night. The native of Brampton, Ont., had 30 points (10-20) in 32 games with the Marlies this season. He was San Jose’s fifth-round pick, 139th overall, in the 2002 NHL entry draft.