By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2011; 3:34 AM
SAN JOSE - Whether it was the grind of three road games in four nights, playing in the second of back-to-back contests or having to battle back from a deficit one too many times in a 48-hour span, when the San Jose Sharks took a lead early in the third period on Thursday night, the energy shifted away from the Washington Capitals.
Despite playing a solid two-way game for the bulk of the contest, the Capitals couldn't make the most of several prime scoring chances while the game was still tied. San Jose took advantage, gaining a 3-2 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 17,562 at HP Pavilion. It marked the Capitals' fourth loss in the past five contests and their second over the first three outings of this five-game trip.
"I thought if there was a shift it was in them being at home, them getting the lead and us probably running out of gas a little bit," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I thought if we could have got the lead somehow in the third period we might have been able to hold on, but it was going to be tough coming from behind."
Ryane Clowe scored the deflating go-ahead goal 4 minutes 27 seconds into the third but Dany Heatley's redirection near the midway point of the period proved to be the game-winner. The Sharks, who had scored more than two goals only once in six contests prior to Thursday's game, registered both a short-handed and a power-play goal in the contest.
The Capitals' loss - their 10th to go with one tie in 11 games in San Jose since Oct. 30, 1993 - left them with 70 points, four behind Southeast Division leader Tampa Bay and just one ahead of sixth-place Montreal in the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals established a strong forecheck to create chances and spent a considerable amount of the first period in the San Jose zone, unlike their unfocused effort in the teams' previous meeting, a 2-0 loss nine days ago at Verizon Center. As the game wore on, though, Washington was unable to find a way to maintain possession in the offensive zone, allowing the Sharks to clear the puck and force their opponent to start all over again - a trend that grew tiresome by the end of the game.
"I think we had some chances, but we got the puck deep and we struggled getting it back and that's why we didn't get any flow in our offense," Marcus Johansson said. "That's a big part of the game, to get the puck deep and create more energy down low. We played a good game but we can be better if we get the puck deep and work."
Energy from the Capitals' 7-6 win over Anaheim on Wednesday no doubt rolled over into the contest with the Sharks. Thursday, however, the focus shifted to defensive responsibility along with the scoring chances.
Washington's budding momentum absorbed its first blow soon after the Capitals were awarded their first and only power play of the contest late in the opening period. John Carlson tripped at the right point and the puck bounced over his stick, making way for a short-handed two-on-one in which Joe Pavelski beat goaltender Michal Neuvirth cleanly.
The Capitals promptly answered 22 seconds later when Alex Ovechkin ripped a shot from the point past San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi, who would finish with 23 saves. Ovechkin has recorded a goal in three of the past four games.
The 1-1 score held through the second period despite chances for both sides. Both Niemi and Neuvirth, who finished with 25 saves in his fifth appearance in the past six games, made key saves to keep the contest tied.
At the start of the third, however, the Sharks began to dictate the pace. Clowe gained possession of the puck in front of the net and faced little challenge as he scored on a backhander to give San Jose a 2-1 lead. The Sharks pressed and started to control the game's flow with their ability to cycle and push the puck down low.
With John Erskine in the box for interference, Heatley tipped a shot from the point by Dan Boyle past Neuvirth to make it 3-1. Nicklas Backstrom would add a second goal for Washington with 1:55 remaining but this was a comeback the Capitals couldn't complete.
"All 60 minutes we have chances," Ovechkin said. Matt "Hendricks miss the net, I have a couple chances to shoot the puck and score, you know, it doesn't go in. It was good effort by us, but again, I think we play good but we didn't win the game."