While the Washington Capitals managed to squeeze a point out of a game in which they trailed with three minutes remaining in regulation, there was no sugarcoating a third consecutive loss at a time when they can ill afford them.
Washington fell 4-3 in overtime to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night but any positive take on the contest was overshadowed by the mistakes, turnovers and incorrect plays that cost it a second point.
The Capitals (32-28-6, 70 points) have earned just three points in the first four games of this all-important five-game homestand. They remain in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two behind Winnipeg for the final playoff berth but with one game in hand. They are two points ahead of 10th-place Tampa Bay.
“This time of year you can’t judge yourself by your intentions. It’s by your results,” said Brooks Laich, who scored with 2 minutes 58 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime. “It’s a game we had to have.”
Each goal scored by the Hurricanes, who sit last in the Southeast Division and 14th in the conference, was the result of a gaffe on the part of a Capital.
Whether it was being caught flat-footed, a blown assignment that left an opponent wide open, a failed attempt to redirect a clearing pass at the offensive blue line or a poor decision to pinch deep into the offensive zone, the plays ended with the puck in Washington’s net.
“We played hard enough again but we made mistakes on our back end tonight,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “It cost them breakaway goals. The winning goal was our back end making mistakes, jumping up and pinching at the wrong time. It cost us the game.”
It proved even more maddening that the errors occurred after the Capitals put together a strong start and held a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into the second period.
An individual effort by Troy Brouwer gave the Capitals the initial lead 13:59 into the first. He carried the puck down the left wing and when his initial shot on net failed, Brouwer followed up and retrieved the loose puck from just under goaltender Cam Ward’s blocker. Brouwer went around the net and backhanded the puck in on the right-post side.
Early in the second a rebound from a point shot by Dmitry Orlov bounced out to the left faceoff circle where Jay Beagle was able to fire a one-timer past Ward (46 saves) at 4:11. It marked Beagle’s first goal of the season.
Only 40 seconds after Beagle’s goal, though, Carolina scored to make it 2-1. Brouwer was slow to get back into the defensive zone, creating a three-on-two for the Hurricanes. A slick pass by Jerome Samson moved from the right wall into the slot, where Jiri Tlusty tipped the puck into a wide-open net with Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) caught out of position.
The Hurricanes evened the score less than four minutes later. A shot by Tim Gleason caromed off the end boards and directly out to Chad LaRose, who was somehow unguarded while standing only feet from the left post. He fired to make it 2-2 at 3:39.
“We’ve got to be able to hold leads,” Brouwer said. “Couple missed assignments, me being one of them. It’s good that we were able to battle back and get a point but again a point just isn’t good enough right now.”
Tempers flared on both sides in the second when Jeff Skinner sent Orlov into the boards and the rookie blue-liner collapsed to the ice in a heap. The Capitals believed that Skinner slewfooted Orlov, trying to sweep the defenseman’s legs out from under him. Alex Ovechkin pursued and took a few swipes at Skinner and later Gleason. Once Skinner made his way back up ice, Orlov challenged the former rookie of the year and would earn a 10-minute misconduct in addition to matching roughing minors.
“I didn’t see the positioning of my feet,” Skinner said after the game. “I just sort of stood my ground. He tried to come hit me and slipped.”
The Hurricanes took their first lead of the game at 3-2 1:45 into the third when Dennis Wideman misplayed the puck when Gleason shot a clearing attempt out of the Carolina zone. At the offensive blue line, Wideman tried to tip the puck into the corner but the puck hopped over his stick and created a breakaway for Brandon Sutter.
“It was just a bad read,” Wideman said. “Those are the plays that cost you playoff series, don’t let you get into playoffs. A bad play. I should have probably just backed up and took the two-on-one, one-on-one whatever it ended up being.”
With time winding down the Capitals showed the desperation required of a team fighting to make the playoffs. A nifty give-and-go between Marcus Johansson and Laich resulted in a tip-in goal for the latter to force overtime.
In the extra session, Wideman jumped up in the play and found himself down by the offensive goal line as the puck squirted out for a two-on-one rush for the Hurricanes. Sutter set up Justin Faulk for a goal that looked simple, because it was.
“I’m sick and tired of giving up easy goals,” Laich said. “We’re giving up goals that they don’t have to work to score. It’s killing us.”
Capitals notes: Fans of Mike Knuble, who was a healthy scratch for the eighth time in 13 games, brought signs to the arena to protest the winger being held out of the lineup. Knuble’s Knights held placards that read “Free Knuble” and “Scratch Hunter” up to the glass during warmups but were told by a member of the event staff and two security guards to take them down or the signs would be confiscated and destroyed. According to team officials, three players asked that the signs be taken down because they believed they were disrespectful to Hunter.