At this point in the season, urgency shouldn’t be optional for the Washington Capitals. It shouldn’t take them 30 minutes to make a proper pass, and they shouldn’t need a three-goal deficit to begin establishing a forecheck when each shift that they don’t threatens their playoff chances.
But apparently the Capitals, who came out timid and disorganized against the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon, still need reminders. Washington spotted the Bruins a three-goal lead before falling, 4-2, at Verizon Center to snap a six-game points streak and squander a chance to move up in the standings.
Stuck at 80 points, the Capitals fell behind two of the three other teams that entered Saturday tied with them for the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card playoff berths. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets each has 82 points following victories on Saturday. The Toronto Maple Leafs remain on 80 points with the Capitals after they lost to Detroit.
Though the Capitals faced a formidable task Saturday against the Bruins, who improved to 14-1-2 since the Olympic break, Washington made it far too easy for them.
“It seems like we afraid to do something out there, afraid to create the play and we give them easy chances,” said Alex Ovechkin, who has gone a career-high 14 games without an even-strength goal. “We knew they physical team, but we have to take a hit and make a play. You can see we was not desperate team in the first two periods. We can’t play like that.”
The Capitals spent the first period receiving a remedial course in puck possession from Boston, which clinched the Atlantic Division title with the victory. They turned the puck over in their own end, failed to complete passes despite having time and space to do so and fueled Boston’s attack through their own mistakes.
Through 20 minutes, the Bruins held a 15-9 lead in shots. But a more true indication of their dominance was the 30-14 advantage in total attempts. At that point it was only Braden Holtby, who finished with 32 saves, holding the home team in the contest.
“You never expect so many consecutive plays where you make the wrong decision, wrong pass or a bad pass,” Capitals Coach Adam Oates said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve done that and we have played good lately, so I expected a way better start than we got.”
The Capitals escaped the first period in a scoreless tie, but they needed to level the contest at even strength to find success. Instead, they gave up three goals in the first 8 minutes 16 seconds of the second.
The first Boston goal was a case study in the Capitals’ puck mismanagement. Eric Fehr carried the puck over the offensive blue line but didn’t send it deep, allowing David Krejci to swat it to the neutral zone. Karl Alzner failed to settle the bouncing puck despite minimal pressure, and Bruins center Carl Soderberg corralled it next to the visitors’ bench.
Soderberg passed to Jarome Iginla, who was streaking through the zone with a step on rookie Tom Wilson. Iginla beat Holtby cleanly with a shot to his blocker side to put Boston ahead at 2:48 of the second.
“We missed a lot of easy passes, short passes, just plays where you can’t give away the puck easily,” Fehr said. “They protect the puck really well and we gave it away a few too many times.”
Four minutes later, Fehr went to the penalty box for hooking, paving the way for the Bruins’ second tally.
Soderberg set up at the top of the crease and before John Carlson made it there to attempt to tie him up, the Boston blue-liner tipped a shot by Patrice Bergeron between Holtby’s legs for a power-play goal to make it 2-0 at 7:35. Forty-one seconds later the Bruins made it 3-0.
John Erskine, in the lineup for the first time since March 5 with Jack Hillen sidelined by an upper-body injury, fell in the neutral zone, allowing Iginla and Milan Lucic to join a rush against rookie Patrick Wey with Marcus Johansson chasing to get back.
While Holtby stopped Iginla’s initial shot, Wey and Johansson were stationary as the 36-year-old winger skated to the net, found his own rebound and put the puck between the netminder’s legs. Iginla’s second goal of the night was also the 560th of his career, tying him with Guy LaFleur for 24th all-time.
“I was going to call timeout,” Oates said. “I guess my thought on that particular one was these guys have got to figure it out right now.”
The Capitals managed to crack Boston backup netminder Chad Johnson (31 saves) with 10 seconds remaining in the second period on a rebound tally by Jason Chimera to make it 3-1. Although Washington followed that goal with a strong third period in which it snatched momentum, it wasn’t enough.
“We’ve got to know that against these teams, against any team, really,” Alzner said. “Like we’ve said before, you can’t just show up for 20 [minutes].”
Ovechkin received a questionable charging call when he delivered an open-ice hit on Loui Eriksson, and Patrice Bergeron scored on the subsequent power play to make it 4-1. Evgeny Kuznetsov added a goal with 55 seconds to go, but the Capitals simply ran out of time for a complete comeback.
If they’re not careful, they will run out of time to reach the playoffs, too.