It was almost a picture-perfect ending. Call-up Mathieu Perreault was having the game of his relatively short career as a Cap, the team was up 4-1 going into the third, and it looked as if the Caps were about to wipe out the bad taste of losing to the Thrashers and Stars over the last few days.
Then it all fell apart.
A three-goal third shifted the momentum to the Leafs and the pressure built as the clock ticked down. Goals by Tim Brent and Clarke MacArthur came in the last 2:30, dismantling a well-constructed lead by the home team. “Washington got a little sloppy toward the end,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “I think they thought the game was over but we kept on playing and took advantage of some of their miscues in their end.”
Goalie Michal Neuvirth staved off the Leafs in overtime and both he and the Leafs’ Jonas Gustavsson stood strong in the shootout, coming down to Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski, who snapped a backhand shot behind Neuvirth. Last night’s shootout win was the second in a row for the Leafs.
For much of the game, it looked to be the Mathieu Perreault show. Deflecting in a point shot from defenseman Tom Poti, who himself notched three assists on the night, Perreault was a bundle of energy on the ice from end to end. His second goal came as he skated in alone near the left circle and took in a tight Brooks Laich pass, pulled and hesitated just long enough to force Gustavsson to commit, then ripped it past the Leafs’ goalie. Any time Perreault touched the puck in the third period and beyond, the crowd got excited, expecting to celebrate yet another hat trick. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
His two-goal night (on three shots and 12 minutes of ice time) was his second multi-point effort in four games with the Caps. The Leafs definitely felt Perreault’s presence, as he was aggressive on the forecheck and landed a great hit on Colby Armstrong near the benches in the third.
Mike Knuble scored the Caps second goal on the power play, wristing his own rebound past Gustavsson. Alex Ovechkin also notched a goal with a point shot in the second period that caught the Leafs’ goalie by surprise.
The loss was a near-repeat of a November 3 visit by the Leafs. Toronto pocketed three goals in the third within three minutes, then tied the game later, sending it into overtime and then a shootout, which the visitors ultimately lost. Coach Bruce Boudreau reminded the team of how dangerous Toronto could be if they let their guard down. “I talked about what [the Leafs] did and that they’re not going to quit and that they believe in themselves now a little bit and they’re going to come out in the third period,” Boudreau told Mike Vogel, senior writer of WashingtonCaps.com. “And they scored three goals to take the lead and we barely snuck by last time. It was something we were well aware of.”
The Caps have lost four of their last 10, posting a 4-4-2 record for the stretch. After last night, they no longer lead the Eastern Conference, now trailing Pittsburgh by a point.
There’s still plenty of time to get the team clicking on all fronts. Last night saw a greater effort to be in front of the opponent’s net, something they failed to do in their loss to Atlanta on Saturday. Last night, the Caps were more accurate in their shooting and had fewer blocked shots. Knuble’s power play goal was a great look at what they are capable of, if they remain consistent at it.
Next game in their four-game homestand is Florida on Thursday. While it would be easy to say that this will be a walk-over on the Southeast Division’s worst team, last night proved the Caps cannot take anything for granted. Puck drops at 7 pm.
Miss the action? Here’s some game photos for you to enjoy.