Cujo, Leafs stifle Capitals in shootout
This time, the Toronto Maple Leafs made sure Alexander Ovechkin had no reason to celebrate.
Curtis Joseph stopped Ovechkin in the shootout to clinch a 3-2 victory over the visiting Washington Capitals at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.
Joseph slid to his left to make a stick save on the NHL's top sniper, who was booed relentlessly because of the way he celebrated his 50th goal days earlier.
"I have played long enough," Joseph said. "Ovechkin is definitely the greatest player in the game right now, I would agree with that.
"But I have played against the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and guys like that. Hopefully, that experience helped."
Joseph was pressed into service with 56 seconds remaining in regulation, when starting netminder Martin Gerber was ejected for bumping referee Mike Leggo and firing the puck in his direction following Brooks Laich's tying goal.
"I'm sorry for me, for losing my cool there," Gerber said. "I got shoved in the net and that is why it [the puck] went in.
"I was upset, shot the puck against the boards and, after that, he tossed me out for I don't know what. I shouldn't have done it, that's obvious."
Joseph was spectacular from the moment he replaced Gerber, foiling Ovechkin in the waning seconds of regulation, counting eight saves in overtime and turning away all three skaters — Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Ovechkin — in the shootout.
"I'm pretty impressed," Capitals netminder Jose Theodore told reporters. "I have got to tell you that you guys don't know how hard it is just to step in when you're not playing and then, in the last minute, when it is a tie game like that — it just showed the character and experience."
Rookie Jeff Hamilton scored the shootout winner, winding his way toward the net and slipping the puck between Theodore's pads.
Rookie Phil Oreskovic and Pavel Kubina scored in regulation for the Maple Leafs (31-30-13), winners in four of the past five games.
Ovechkin and Laich scored for the Capitals (45-23-7), whose single point pulled them even with the second-ranked New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference.
'I'm still a little tingly inside'
The Maple Leafs were outshot 10-6 in a scoreless first period, but they broke the deadlock 9:04 into the second period on Oreskovic's first NHL goal in eight career appearances.
"I didn't know if [Mikhail] Grabovski had tipped it or not, but they let me know it was mine right away," Oreskovic said. "It was a real exciting feeling and I'm still a little tingly inside."
Ovechkin tied it 1-1 with 21 seconds left in the period as he burst past rookie defenceman Luke Schenn and eluded Gerber's pokecheck with a sweeping backhand deke to score his league-leading 51st goal.
Ovechkin celebrated in a traditional manner, electing not to re-enact the 'hot stick' stunt that followed his 50th goal and drew the wrath of hockey critics.
Even so, he made no apologies for doing it.
"If you win the lottery — a million dollars — you go to the bar and drink a lot," Ovechkin said. "I scored 50 goals and I just celebrated.
"It is good for our league, it is good for our fans. Some players are just like robots.
"They score goals and it is, like, no emotion — nothing — they basically go OK. You have to show emotion if you're an emotional guy — show it.
"You don't have to think about if somebody doesn't like it. I don't care about it if somebody don't like it.
"I play myself, I enjoy my life, I have enjoyed my whole career. If somebody don't like it, don't watch my game, don't watch what I'm doing on the ice."
"There was no animosity toward anybody," Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau explained. "It was just him being a really emotional, energetic young man … it is the first time he ever did that, so I think we have to cut him a little slack."
Toronto regained the lead on Kubina's 14th, a power-play goal with 2:09 left in the third period.
Just 11 seconds later, Laich stuffed the puck under Gerber during a scramble to force overtime.
Gerber stopped 34 of 36 shots before being tossed.
With files from the Canadian Press