LANDOVER -- Washington goaltender Jim Carey had the best seat in the house. Right there on the ice, in the crease. And he stood there, tall, strong, stick and glove at the ready.
Occasionally, he'd point to a teammate, run his stick blade around the border of his crease, or straighten his helmet.
If he had yawned -- or set up a lemonade stand -- no one would have noticed, until the closing moments, anyway, when the Florida Panthers applied some heat.
But Carey didn't flinch and skated off the ice with a 3-0 victory last night and the fourth shutout of his young career.
The Capitals needed this victory after three straight losses to keep pace in the ever tightening Eastern Conference playoff race. Washington moved into a fifth-place tie with the Boston Bruins (both with 41 points).
Today, they leave on a road trip to Quebec and Montreal. It will not be a picnic, given that Quebec is the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference and Montreal is four points from the final playoff spot and facing the possibility of missing the postseason for the first time in 25 years.
"This was tough," said Carey. "The Hartford one was easy. There were a lot of shots. This one was hard, mentally. We played well. The guys held the shots down and played well defensively."
After taking a 2-0 lead on power play goals by defenseman Mark Tinordi and right wing Peter Bondra in the first two periods, the Capitals played tenacious defense.
Tinordi was appearing on the power play for the first time last night because coach Jim Schoenfeld wanted someone to stand in the crease and take the abuse necessary to score a goal. And that's exactly what Tinordi did. He scored while falling to the ice on his knees and knocking a rebound home with 12:16 to play in the first period.
For Bondra, his goal with 3:59 gone in the second was his 25th of the season and moved him into a tie for fourth on the NHL goal-scoring list. He has scored in 11 of his past 12 games (14 total goals).
The victory lifts Carey's record to 14-5-2, and his goals-against average remained a league-leading 1.94.
"We just weren't getting the one goal or the bounce we needed," he said. "But you knew it was going to come as long as we're playing well. Losing 2-1 or 1-0 like we were, that's part of the game."
With the Capitals allowing just 16 shots, five in the final period, there was only one close moment. It came with 1:05 left in the third, when the Panthers almost bundled one into the net. But newly acquired center Mike Eagles grabbed Panther Brian Skrudland in the crease.
"It wasn't that close," Carey said of the late shot. "I was on it and Mike was on him. It wasn't within three feet."
To finish things off, with seven seconds left, Tinordi and Kelly Miller got Steve Konowalchuk out on a break, and he scored into
an open net.
Florida .. 0 0 0 -- 0
Washington 1 1 1 -- 3