It was a tale of two games: it the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of swiftness, it was the age of slacking off, it was the epoch of crisp passes on the tape, it was the epoch of sloppy clearing attempts, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, – in short, the third period was so far unlike the first period, that some of its noisiest fans insisted on the game being received in the superlative degree of comparison only. And they booed lustily.
With all apologies to Charles Dickens, thus was the Caps game last night. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first 25 minutes of hockey, the Caps utterly and completely fell apart, lost the lead – and eventually the game in overtime – to the Winnipeg Jets, 4-3. It was a demoralizing loss to a team immediately behind Washington in the standings. Two spectacular, highlight-worthy goals by Alex Ovechkin were for naught.
“This is a tough pill to swallow right now,” said Matt Hendricks after the game. “We had all the momentum going our way, then the next thing you know we lose in overtime.”
The game started with fast and furious action as you would expect in a game between two teams with post-season aspirations. There were good scoring chances at both ends of the ice. Alexander Semin had a partial breakaway only to hit the side of the net. John Carlson found himself alone in the slot only to be stoned by Winnipeg netminder Ondrej Pavelec. Finally Jason Chimera was able to get on the scoreboard when he took a pass from Jeff Halpern and accelerated past Jets defender Tobias Enstrom. Chimera faked a shot then moved to the backhand to tuck the puck behind the outstretched toe of Pavelec to make it 1-0.
Two minutes into the second period Ovechkin wheeled into the Jets zone 1-on-1 against the Jets’ Mark Stuart. Using one of his favorite moves, Ovechkin used Stuart as a screen, firing the puck between his legs and over the shoulder of Pavelec to make it 2-0.
The Caps were on a roll, dominating puck possession. Every pass was crisp and right on the tape. Memories of the high-scoring team of 2008-10 came flooding back. When Semin drew a penalty, Michal Neuvirth was able to skate to the bench for an extra skater – Alex Ovechkin, of course. With a few quick passes, the Caps isolated Ovechkin on the left side for a one-timer to make it 3-0. It was Ovechkin’s 6th goal in his past four games.
But the Jets proved that they were not going to go quietly. A goal by Ben Maxwell was followed immediately by a center-ice fight on the ensuing face off. The Caps appeared to lose their spark, perhaps the result of the second game in as many nights. The Jets peppered shots on Neuvirth. Brian Little was finally able to poke home a rebound on a point shot by Enstrom to cut the lead to 3-2 before the end of the second period. It was going to be a battle.
In the third period the Caps appeared to go into a shell to protect their slim lead. But even as the Caps tried to slow the game down, the Jets took off. Only a couple of outstanding saves by Neuvirth prevented the Jets from scoring early. The Caps were unable to maintain control of the puck or even connect for short passes. “You need a line to grasp it and go down and have a shift in their end of the ice,” said Mike Knuble. “It just never materialized. We were just defending, defending, defending. It was kind of an omen of what was to follow.”
Winnipeg reeled off 16 unanswered shots before the Caps were able to muster a single shot on goal. It wasn’t the Jets’ stars who did the damage. Jets rookie Spencer Machacek tied the game at 3-3 with four minutes to play on his first NHL goal. All three players on Winnipeg’s fourth line scored in the game, including the overtime game-winner.
For the second straight game, the Caps surrendered the lead and lost in extra time. “It’s a battle, you gotta rebound. It’s playoff hockey,” said head coach Dale Hunter. “You just gotta put it behind you and move on.” With seven games remaining in the season, there will not be many games to move on to until the Caps can hold a lead in a close game.