It was a dangerous and desperate Calgary Flames hockey club that visited Verizon Center Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, their league-leading hosts hoped to clinch, with but a single standings point, the Eastern Conference title. Translation: a mismatch of priority intensity.
Still, it was stunning to see this Capitals club dominated as thoroughly as it was by this reeling Calgary team after 20 minutes Sunday. It was 4-0 for the team on life support, Jose Theodore yanked after yielding three goals on the 10 shots he faced. The Caps were left waiting on the outcome of the New Jersey-Philly game Sunday night to see if they’d secured the conference crown.
On Saturday the Flames were humiliated in Boston, 5-0. In their previous game, on Thursday in Long Island, they yielded a pair of third period goals and lost 3-2 to the bottom feeding Isles. The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, had gone a scorching 8-0-1 to surge to a six-point lead over the Flames in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot out West. Calgary writers traveling with the club on this roadtrip were predicting another embarrassment for the visitors on Sunday.
To appreciate how desperate and discombobulated Calgary was upon its arrival in Washington, take a look at the gratuitously grumpy greeting the club received from Sunday’s Calgary Herald:
“WARNING! The program you are about to watch contains adult themes, profanity and graphic violence. Parental discretion is strongly advised.
“Yes, best keep the kiddies away from the 50-inch Plasma Sunday afternoon from 1 o’clock through about 3:30. Stripped of their dignity, of any playoff aspirations, the feckless Calgary Flames stumble into the whirring teeth of Alexander Ovechkin’s abbatoir today.
“There’s apt to be entrails dangling all over the place. It shapes up as a gore-fest. And a goal-fest.”
To be fair, none of JT’s teammates showed much interest in competing in the game’s opening 20 minutes, when a Calgary club, ranked 28th in the league in scoring, lit the lamp four times. The Capitals have trailed by four goals in only two games this season, for a total of nine minutes, 58 seconds. But it was clear after 10 minutes that this was not going to be Theodore’s day.
“I just thought he was fighting the puck – every shot was fighting the puck,” Bruce Boudreau said afterward. “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. We just weren’t ready to play in the first period. It was indicative of four shots on goal that you are not ready.”
Was Sunday’s opening frame the worst period of hockey played by the Caps this season? There haven’t been many rivals in infamy to it. On November 14 in New Jersey, the Devils scored three unanswered second period goals en route to a comfortable 5-2 triumph. On December 12 in Toronto the Caps entered the third period knotted up at 3-3 with the Leafs and exited the ice 6-3 losers. And it was 3-0 Ca’nes after the first period on December 28, but the Caps had traded their captain, Chris Clark, and Milan Jurcina earlier in the day and seemed emotionally affected by the changes. The Caps came into play Sunday rested and presumably ready, and certainly with something to play for. But it appeared that relative to Calgary’s incentive — staying alive — the conference title could wait for another day.
It was just one of those days: Calgary’s fifth goal was a backhanded flutterball from Rene Bourque from that rolled up off of Varly’s pads, over his head, and somehow eluded the swatting flailings of Tom Poti, coming to a cruel rest in the Capitals’ cage, making it 5-1 Calgary and ending any serious notion of a comeback.
If there was a bright spot for the Capitals Sunday it came from the play of emergency callup Mathieu Perreault. With the Caps missing forwards Brooks Laich, Brendan Morrison, Scott Walker, and Boyd Gordon, Perreault was summoned from Hershey after last night’s Bears’ game. The second-year pro received power play time from Boudreau in the third period and was hovering around Miikka Kiprusoff’s cage right as Alexander Ovechkin lasered a drive from the left half-boards. Perreault gathered the rebound to the side of the Calgary cage and, with his entire body behind the net, slide-tucked in the rebound to cut Calgary’ lead to 5-3.
More Matty Love filled the arena. It was too little, too late, however.
The Flames live for another day. The Caps got to check another meaning-challenged game off their early spring ledger.