The Washington Capitals came back to Earth on Friday night, falling in a critical Southeast Division clash to the Winnipeg Jets by a final score of 3-2. The Jets took the lead three separate times, but the first two, the Caps were able to draw even with goals from Brooks Laich and Mathieu Perreault, respectively. Tomas Vokoun, making his first start in almost a week, made 25 saves, many of them spectacular, in Washington’s goal. With this loss, the Caps now only hold a two point advantage on the Jets for the final playoff spot in the East. Like I said before this trip started: nothing means anything until this trip is over. It just got real.
The game got off to a poor start for the Capitals, as they were forced to the penalty kill after only 90 seconds, allowing the NHL’s top ranked home ice power play an early opportunity to energize an already earsplitting MTS Centre. Washington was able to kill off the penalty with the help of some nice saves from Vokoun, and then got a few chances of their own, none better than an Alex Ovechkin rip at Ondrej Pavelec’s chest. Washington then got their first power play of the night, but got little zone time or pressure. They were made to pay for it soon after the man advantage expired as Andrew Ladd collected a loose puck and chopped it past Vokoun for a 1-0 lead with ten and a half minutes left in the period.
Brooks Laich would answer right back in 22 seconds, however, cutting to the net and tipping a Marcus Johansson pass past Pavelec for a very important equalizer. After those goals, the game began to slow down a bit and had less of a breakneck pace, but it still produced some offensive chances as the referees put away their whistles and let the game flow. The period ended tied at one.
Like the first period, the second one opened with the Capitals taking a penalty and giving the Jets’ lethal home ice power play a chance to break the tie. Again, the Jets did not score on their power play, but got a chance right after it had expired when former Cap Eric Fehr was let loose in front; Vokoun was there for the save. The Jets began to take total control as the period progressed, spending large amounts of time in the Caps’ zone. But Vokoun continued to hold the fort.
With eight minutes left in the middle frame, the Caps only had ten shots on goal and were getting thoroughly dominated and controlled. Eventually, the pressure was too much, and the Caps’ defense caved as Nik Antropov took advantage of more poor defensive play from Alex Ovechkin to take the lead with 3:50 left in the game. Washington then took two penalties in a span of 21 seconds, one each to Mike Knuble and Laich, to give the Jets a long 5-on-3. Miraculously, the Caps killed it off, and headed to the locker room down 2-1, but with a power play of their own upcoming at the start of the third.
Mathieu Perreault took advantage of the power play at the start of the third period, scoring after 20 seconds to draw his mates even once more. But the momentum would not last, as Jason Chimera was called for a hook with 17:17 left in the period to give DC another huge penalty kill. For the fifth time, the shorthanded unit was great, and the game settled back in to a back and forth pace. But again, the home team’s pressure was eventually just too much, and Dustin Byfuglien tipped home a goal in front to make it 3-2 with 10:30 left in regulation.
As the third period began to wind down, the deafening noise of the MTS Centre grew even louder as the hometown Jets drew closer to a monumental win. With 2:22 left, though, the Caps got a final power play chance to try and equalize again. Despite a heroic late push, however, the Caps could not break through Pavelec, and lost a huge four-point game.
Marcus Johansson was the victim of a blatant headshot midway through the first period and took one shift after the initial hit. Johansson was then absent from the game until the 14 minute mark of the second period, at which point he returned to the ice and began to take regular shifts again. Nevertheless, the situation bears watching, as the Caps cannot afford to lose another center.
Tomas Vokoun was absolutely brilliant in this game. The Capitals’ goaltender made several amazing saves throughout the game, including an absolutely brilliant denial on Blake Wheeler during that 5-on-3. He was the reason that the Caps had a chance to win this game, and could not be blamed for any of the goals he allowed. I think he’ll start in Chicago.
Alex Ovechkin got back to his ways of not being good this evening, and it was a big reason the Caps lost. He wasn’t good enough on offense and his lazy defensive play, where he was floating around in the defensive zone, led to the Jets’ game-winning goal. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: you can’t win with that type of stuff from your captain.
The Caps’ next game is Sunday night in primetime against the Chicago Blackhawks. Big tilt.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.