With less than eight minutes remaining in regulation Thursday night at Verizon Center it appeared all would wrap up well for the Washington Capitals, who held a two-goal lead after a scoreless stalemate that stretched far into the third period. But in the final three minutes, that advantage unraveled.
The Winnipeg Jets scored a whirlwind pair of goals 12 seconds apart — one on a two-man advantage created by a broken-stick penalty by Brooks Laich and the other a shot from the red line that deflected off Karl Alzner — to force overtime. From there, the Capitals went on to lose, 3-2, in a shootout.
The defeat cost Washington a valuable point in the ever-changing Eastern Conference standings. Florida defeated Los Angeles, 3-1, to pull even with the Capitals in points at 61, but with a game in hand the Panthers move ahead to claim the Southeast Division lead and cause Washington to fall back down to ninth place. Winnipeg’s victory makes it a tighter three-team race for first in the Southeast as it sits just three points behind the Capitals and Panthers.
“Right now we’re not okay with just one point,” Troy Brouwer said. “We feel two should’ve been ours and they should’ve been going with none. That’s hockey, I guess. It’s how things happen. We’ve just got to try and make sure that we’re getting points and when we have leads, we’ve got to protect those leads.”
It was an explosive and peculiar finish to a game that started out with 49 minutes of scoreless play. The Capitals dominated much of the play early on, out-shot Winnipeg 24-15 through the first two periods and saw shots clank off the crossbar and misfire ever so slightly. Regardless of the volume of chances, they couldn’t find a way to solve goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (32 saves) until a few trips to the power play in the third.
Alex Ovechkin scored for a second consecutive game to put the Capitals up 1-0, 9 minutes 46 seconds into the third. A shot by Alexander Semin had ricocheted off the end boards and directly to Ovechkin, who was backdoor near the right post and fired into an empty net.
Less than three minutes later on another power play, Ovechkin set up Semin for a one-timer also backdoor near the right post to give Washington what appeared to be a comfortable 2-0 edge with 7:30 to play in regulation. It was the first time they scored two power-play goals in a contest since Jan. 13 — 12 games ago. But the Capitals weren’t out of danger just yet.
“You get those two goals, you finally take a little bit of a breath that you finally scored a goal and that you’re up with not too much time left,” Alzner said. “But it isn’t over until it’s over. That’s proof tonight.”
Roman Hamrlik took a slashing penalty and just more than a minute into that penalty, Winnipeg pulled Pavelec for an extra attacker to make it a six-on-four advantage.
Moments later, Laich was given a two-minute minor for playing the puck with a broken stick. The Capitals’ forward had just blocked a shot by Dustin Byfuglien and then went to send the puck out of the defensive zone, Laich didn’t realize his stick was broken. He and his teammates were equally puzzled by the call.
“If you have a couple seconds you can check [the stick] out,” Laich said. “In a bang-bang play it’s pretty — especially with four minutes left already down six-on-four it’s pretty tough to take a second to check your stick when a puck’s up for [grabs].”
Laich’s penalty, combined with the Jets having pulled the goaltender effectively gave the visitors a six-on-three advantage but Washington managed to kill 53 seconds before they struck. A fight for the puck in the crease prompted Alzner to shove Bryan Little inadvertently into Tomas Vokoun (25 saves) and no one was able to prevent Capitals-killer Evander Kane from pushing the rebound into the net. Kane, who has eight goals in 13 career games against the Capitals, made it 2-1 with 3:15 left.
That the call on Laich led to a goal for Winnipeg left a sour taste with many of the Capitals.
“I don’t know how to say, I don’t think it was penalty on Brooksie,” Ovechkin said. “He don’t see stick was broken, I got couple blocked shots with my stick and I still play with my broken stick and I didn’t have a call.”
On the ensuing shot, Byfuglien let a booming slap shot rip from the red line. The puck deflected off Alzner at the blue line and then evaded Vokoun. In a matter of 12 seconds the Jets went from down two goals to even at 2-2 to force overtime.
“If I get out of the way earlier than that, he just skates in,” Alzner said. “If I try to block the dump in who knows what happens.”
Washington lost in the shootout, with the Jets’ Blake Wheeler and Little scoring in the tiebreaker, leaving the sting and daze of coughing up that two-goal edge lingering in the dressing room.
“Maybe one of the most unfortunate finishes, I don’t know,” Laich said. “We should have had the hockey game. There’s no excuses and it’s disappointing to lose it that way.”