It was a quick strike by Alex Semin's stick. And it was a game-changer.
Semin unleashed the fury in the form of a cross-check to the back of Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles's head
in the second period. He drew blood, which earned him a five-minute major and a game misconduct. That gave the Avs a lengthy power play, which they took advantage of, scoring a crucial goal to give Colorado a two-goal lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"He extended his arms," Boudreau said of Semin's stick work. "I don't know how hard he hit him, but he retaliated."
The 3-2 loss extended the Capitals' losing streak to five games -- a streak they haven't had since 2007 and the first of the Boudreau era.
Semin's major for cross-checking came in front of the Avs net about six minutes into the second period. After taking a shot from the high slot he skated toward the net looking for a possible rebound. That's when John-Michael Liles tried to tie him up while Anderson smothered the puck. Semin then stopped and hammered Liles in the back of the head with a nasty cross-check. He was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
The Avs cashed in with the man advantage. Knuble, who scored his 250th career goal in the game, failed to pick up Paul Stastny, who was alone at the back door to the right of Michal Neuvirth. Kevin Shattenkirk fed him with a pass from the right-wing boards, and all Stastny had to do was tap it home to give the Avs the commanding lead.
So the Caps' losing ways continue. But on this night, the loss wasn't because of a lack of effort. As a matter of fact, coach Bruce Boudreau was quite pleased with how his team performed.
"That looked more like our team tonight," Boudreau said. "With an effort like that, maybe tomorrow (when the team plays the Rangers at MSG) they may get rewarded for it."
That effort was displayed until the very end, as the Caps fired 17 shots on Avs' goalie Craig Anderson in the third and swarmed him with constant pressure late in the period. The effort was there. The goals were not.
"We didn't stop playing," Alex Ovechkin said. "That was the most important thing. We played well but we couldn't score."
After Boudreau called out his star players following Thursday night's shutout loss to Florida, he praised them for their performance Saturday.
"You could tell the difference," Boudreau said. "(Ovechkin) was skating, he was moving, he was hitting. I thought he did a good job that way. Knuble was working and Nicky (Backstrom) was a little better, but he can still play better, but he tried. He's coming right out of sickbed. He gave it everything he had."
He also said Matt Hendricks was his best performer on the ice on this night. Hendricks scored the Caps' lone goal of the third period on the power play. After Backstrom did a good job of holding the puck in at the left point, Knuble corralled the puck in the left circle and threw it in front of the net. Hendricks took it and, with his back to the net, sent a backhander between his own legs and under Anderson for a goal.
After that, the Caps threw everything they had at Anderson in an attempt to tie things up, but couldn't find a way to get that elusive third goal.
"That's hockey," Hendricks said. "You're going to have those nights. You play like that every night, you're going to win more games then you're going to lose. That's the good thing. That leaves a good feeling and something to build from."
The Caps hope the foundation they laid Saturday night leads to something Sunday against the Rangers.
Scott Hannan didn't have a great start to his first game against his old team. Just over two minutes into the first, the Avs' Paul Stastny won a faceoff back to Kevin Shattenkirk at the point. The rookie skated down the right wing boards and tried to feather a cross-crease pass to Kevin Porter crashing the net. The puck instead deflected off of Hannan's stick and past Neuvirth for the game's first goal.
Hannan was on the ice for all three Avalanche goals and was a minus-2.
Meanwhile, Tomas Fleischmann's first game against the Caps wasn't much better. It was his slashing penalty in the third period that gave the Caps a power play -- one that led to their second goal.
Mike Knuble's 250th goal of his career was much like those he's scored before -- by standing in front of the net. Ovechkin picked up the puck at his own blue line, put his head down and skated hard down the left wing. As he closed in on defenseman Ryan O'Byrne, he dangled the puck in the d-man's skates and went around him, picking the puck up on the other side. He then chipped a backhander on net. The puck popped into the air and Knuble batted it in before Anderson could get his glove on it.
"I don't get wrapped up in numbers, but that's a nice, round number," said Knuble, who is also closing in on 500 career points. "I guess 250 looks better than something in the 240s."
He now has 495 career points in 917 games.