Legace faced 39 shots in regulation, four more in overtime and then held off the likes of Washington stars Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green in the shootout for a 3-2 Carolina victory Thursday night.
The Capitals came out slow after winning Wednesday in Washington in a shootout over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, spotting the Canes two first-period goals, but rallied to tie the score and then gained the early advantage in the shootout when Nicklas Backstrom scored.
But Ray Whitney trickled one past Semyon Varlamov to keep the Canes alive as Carolina’s third shooter, and Chad LaRose capped the night when he tucked one just inside the right post and past the Russian goalie in the fifth round to even the season series against the top team in the Eastern Conference.
“You knew it was coming because that team is so good,” Legace said about the slow start by the Caps and then an offensive onslaught that followed. “Our boys did a phenomenal job of keeping them to the outside. I don’t think we let up a 2-on-1 all night.”
Six of Carolina’s last nine games have gone into overtime, with the Canes going 4-0-2 in that span, including two wins each over Washington and Pittsburgh.
“It was pure panic after the first guy scored because I was like, ‘Here we go, now I’ve got Ovechkin next, great,”’ Legace said. “I got lucky he didn’t get it up where he wanted to and Semin didn’t get it where he wanted it. He went high glove last night and I was hoping he would go there again and he did.
“I watched the highlights last night, so you put it in the back of your mind, but you know they have so many moves,” added Legace. “You’ve got to say, ‘OK, he scored on this last night and maybe he’s praying I wasn’t watching.”’
Carolina could have easily won it in regulation but Erik Cole couldn’t poke home the puck in front of a wide open shot, getting to it a split second too late in the third period, then Eric Staal failed to convert on a 2-on-1 with Ray Whitney late in overtime.
Whitney made up for it though. According to coach Paul Maurice, he was in a heated debate with associate head coach Ron Francis over who Carolina’s next shooter should be in the shootout when Whitney leaned over and lobbied for LaRose, who had never been involved in a shootout prior to Thursday night.
“I was going to start to get the crowd pumped up, but I was scared I would miss so I didn’t do that,” LaRose said after getting a surprising tap on the shoulder from Maurice. “I’m pretty sure I’m not going to have to worry about going 1, 2 or 3 (in the shootout) but it doesn’t matter to me. Maybe the quick reaction of going out there and not having too much time to think about it was a good thing.”
One game after not getting a power-play opportunity for the first time all season, the Canes struck 2:11 into the game on the man advantage as Jamie McBain beat Varlamov from the blue line with Staal parked in front.
Seven minutes later, it was another rookie defenseman that exposed Varlamov low to the blocker side when Bryan Rodney netted his first career goal from the high slot.
It was the first time since 1984 and just the third time in Carolina franchise history that two rookie defenseman scored a goal in the same game.
Jussi Jokinen assisted on both goals in a period in which not much defense was played, with each team posting 13 shots.
“McBain gets the puck to the net as well as I’ve seen a guy do it in a long, long time and with his head up,” Maurice said. “When those guys can shoot it like that we’re going to get more points from our defensemen.”
Carolina killer Semin scored his 23rd goal in 29 career games against the Canes early in the second, sneaking it between the legs of Legace to close the gap to one.
But the Canes kept the other Alex off the board through 40 minutes as Ovechkin was called for a goaltender interference penalty after elbowing Legace midway through the period – drawing boos from the RBC Center crowd -- that led to a two-man advantage for the Canes. And one of Ovechkin’s shots from a sharp angle that got behind Legace was ruled “no goal” after a video review showed it didn’t cross the goal line.
The Caps tied the score early in the third when John Carlson scored his first NHL goal.
“I thought they came out a little slow and we needed to take advantage of it when you play a team like that,” Maurice said. “But we skated well in doing it, we were moving.”
NOTES: Jokinen has 11 points in seven games against Washington since being acquired by Carolina in February 2009. … McBain has six points in his first six NHL games … Legace is now 14-10 in shootouts. … Carolina blocked 35 shots. … Joni Pitkanen had a team-high six shots and played 32:19. … The Canes are 4-4 in shootouts this season. … Carolina has points in 19 of their last 24 games.