WASHINGTON – In between stoppages of play, Josh Harding found himself stretching and grabbing the Gatorade water bottle behind him all too often. In his first start since October 16, he faced a total of 41 shots from a Washington Capitals squad without the services of Alexander Ovechkin.
From Alexander Semin’s blistering slap shots and close range stuff attempts from Chris Clark, Harding came up with all the answers. He used his blocker side, pounced on rebounds quickly and Minnesota’s defense help break up the long stretch passes that usually help spring Washington’s attack.
The damage, though, came from Washington’s blue line.
Mike Green connected early on a second period power-play and Brian Pothier scored the go-ahead goal two minutes into the third period.
While the Wild battled back and Harding continued to make one heroic save after another, it could not generate the offense it had discovered against Toronto and Tampa Bay. The Wild fell 3-1 to the Capitals before a loud and red clad Verizon Center crowd of 18,277 fans.
“I’m proud of the way the guys battled today,” Harding said. “We played last night and I thought we came out there and gave it our best shot.”
“I would have liked to win the game but sometimes it’s not meant to be. We’ve got to take the positives out of the game and put them into the next,” he added.
Minnesota is now 1-1-1 on this four game road trip. The Wild face the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
Despite playing the night before at Tampa Bay into an overtime shootout, Harding gave the Wild a chance to win with 15 first period stops. On one occasion, Harding intercepted a centering pass from Nicklas Backstrom by covering up the puck outside his crease at 4:51. Rugged Capitals forward Mike Knuble crashed head first into the net and subsequently broke his finger on that play. He did not return to the contest and will be out for three to four weeks.
Meantime, Minnesota’s offense pressured Washington’s defense with an intense forecheck and Cal Clutterbuck led the way. He drew a cross checking penalty from Washington’s Nick Backstrom after Clutterbuck checked the Swedish playmaking center into the boards at center ice.
Although, Minnesota did not convert on that power play, Clutterbuck scored just as it had expired.
Brent Burns zipped a pass from his own zone to Clutterbuck, who raced down the right wing and lined a shot past Semyon Varlamov’s blocker pad to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead at 1:31 of the second period.
About a minute and a half later, Harding denied a potential game tying goal with a glove save on Brendan Morrison who was left wide open in the slot after Tom Poti fed Morrison from behind the net.
Throughout the game, Washington’s defense jumped into the play and kept Minnesota’s back checkers on its heels. Anti Miettinen tried to slow down Tom Poti on one rush, but Miettinen got caught for high sticking Poti at 4:42 of the second period.
Washington’s Mike Green made the Wild pay for that two-minute infraction.
Green collected a centering feed from Tomas Fleischman who gained the right wing zone with speed. Green then snapped a shot through Harding’s pads on the power play at 5:38 of the second period for Washington’s first goal.
Through two periods of play, Harding faced 31 shots.
Two minutes into the third period and with the Wild pressing, Perreault laid a drop pass for Brian Pothier, who gunned a shot from the top of the left wing circle past the blocker side of Harding.
Minnesota, searching for the equalizer, threw everything toward Varlamov. Marek Zidlicky tried a wrap around bid at 11:35. Varlamov absorbed Havlat’s wrister from the left wing circle at 15:28. Andrew Brunette had one last bid with 58 seconds but to no avail.
Brooks Laich added the empty netter for Washington.
“The guys competed all the way to the end,” Minnesota head coach Todd Richards said. “Obviously it’s disappointing. [Wild Goaltender Josh Harding] I thought was tremendous in the nets. That’s what you want from your goalie. It’s nice to see him [off of his previous two games that he played] come in and play a game like this tonight and give us an opportunity to at least get a point if not, get a win.”