NASHVILLE — For about 56 minutes Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals played at least even with one of the best defensive teams in the NHL and even set the Nashville Predators back on their heels. They played well enough to get the first goal and first lead in a game dominated by stellar goaltending on both sides late in the third period.
But 28 seconds later, on the shift following the tally and that precious lead, the Capitals thought a play was offside. They stopped skating, but Nashville didn’t and a tying goal by Martin Erat looked far too simple. Relinquishing control shifted the momentum significantly and the Predators would make the Washington defense look foolish with just 24.3 seconds remaining when Colin Wilson scored the eventual game winner en route to a 3-1 victory.
“I even don’t know what really happened on the second goal, why the guy was all alone in front of the net,” said Tomas Vokoun, who made 28 saves (and it’s hard to fault him for the two goals he allowed). “There was actually two guys, the guy who make that deke and one that was behind the net, who was by himself for a second it was basically one against four of our guys coming into our zone. We can’t blame anybody but ourselves; we basically give them the win.”
The loss marks the Capitals’ sixth defeat in the past nine games and their fourth in the past five outings.
To be certain, the Predators and particularly their goaltender Pekka Rinne deserve credit for responding to the initial deficit. Rinne made 39 saves in what was a all-out goaltending duel between him and Vokoun for the first 55 minutes, with each making routine and eye-popping stops when the situation called for it.
Ultimately, though, this was a contest within Washington’s grasp to potentially start out the three-game road trip on a positive note. Taking a 1-0 lead on a goal by Troy Brouwer against stingy Nashville, especially given Rinne’s play, with less than five minutes left in regulation is a situation that can’t be squandered.
The Capitals went “from putting ourselves in an unbelievable spot to win a hockey game,” Brouwer explained, “to scrambling, and even though the game was tied, you lose the momentum like that and you feel like you’re behind.”
It was on the shift immediately after Brouwer beat Rinne high stick side to crack the scoreless tie that the Capitals cleared the puck out of their zone, only to be outworked at center ice. The top line of Brouwer, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom watched as the Predators carried the puck into the offensive zone and thinking that they were offsides Washington’s skaters stopped moving.
Replay clearly shows Nashville was onside as John Carlson, who was on the ice with Jeff Schultz, pointed to the linesman indicating he too thought the play should have halted at the blue line. The Predators pushed on with Shea Weber carrying the puck toward the net where he made a cross-crease pass to Erat for an easy tap in.
“I think all the guys on the ice thought it was offsides so they stopped playing and [Nashville] didn’t stop playing,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s why you have to play to the whistle. Just looking at the replay, guys were putting up their hands and they stopped skating and they kept coming and that’s why it looked so easy.”
Evening the score up at 1-1 in an instant gave Nashville all the momentum required to push to end the contest before overtime. After a chance by the Capitals in the final minute of play, the Predators dumped the puck back in the Washington zone. John Erskine went to retrieve the puck but was beat to it by Wilson, and in the process the defenseman lost his stick.
As Wilson curled back up the boards, Dennis Wideman went to the same side where Erskine struggled to get back in the play without his stick. Jason Chimera also joined the defensive pairing with all three standing in the left faceoff circle as Erat skated unencumbered toward the net. Wilson fed Erat, now alone next to Vokoun, but as the netminder challenged, the Predators winger fed the puck back to his teammate who raced through the slot. Wilson fired into an open net as he split through four Capitals in the slot.
“Their goalie played great; our goalie played very well. Then once we scored, I don’t know. I don’t know what happened,” Boudreau said. “It was hard to take because we worked so hard. You get 40 shots in this building against a great defensive team and 32 of them are in the last two periods, it’s really tough. We’ll have to regroup tomorrow and get ready for Winnipeg.”