The Washington Times - November 17, 2011, 10:43AM

WINNIPEG, Manitoba | Bruce Boudreau’s right. For most of Tuesday night’s game, the Capitals went defense-for-defense, stop-for-stop with the Nashville Predators. They couldn’t capitalize on a variety of chances, though neither could the Predators, and the defense was downright stingy.

But that kind of optimism rings hollow given what happened in the final minutes. The Caps blew a late lead, then couldn’t even force overtime, because of two defensive miscues.

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“I thought we played good. But it doesn’t matter, really,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “When it comes down to it, they made two good plays and we fell asleep for a couple minutes, and that was the game.”

That’s the lesson the Caps are taking out of that loss as the road trip continues Thursday with a visit to the Winnipeg Jets: One or two blunders can ruin a night.

With Pekka Rinne and Tomas Vokoun trading big stops and both teams unable to crack the opposing goaltender, it felt a lot like a playoff game, complete with the tight-checking and pressure that one play can make all the difference.

“When you’re playing a good team, and when you get into the playoffs, you get to the end of the season, that one mess-up could cost you the game,” Wideman said. “We had two breakdowns, basically, the whole game, and it cost us the hockey game.”

The defensive breakdowns at the Predators were hard to explain. On the tying goal, the Caps’ top line was slow to get back and guys at least hesitated when they thought the play was offside. On Nashville’s game-winner, the coverage left not one but two opponents open.

“We were going along so well, I have no idea what happened in those breakdowns,” the Caps’ coach said. “I don’t know if it was nerves or panic or what have you. But it shouldn’t be – we had all veteran guys on the ice.”

During Wednesday’s practice, the Caps worked on the very things that went wrong. The forwards cycled the puck in the offensive zone, then had to race back to defend.

That went on for several turns with each line. If it happens again, it won’t be because the Caps don’t know how.

“When stuff like that happens, you have to learn from it and the point that you have to see what you did wrong and then remember that,” Wideman said.

Players were in a good mood Wednesday, not as stunned and lacking for words as they were in the minutes following the loss. That the Caps have gone 1-3-1 in their past five games was not dragging down the emotions of a team eager to build on a (mostly) strong defensive effort,

And put that well in the past.

“It’s something that hopefully when you make mistakes like that, you learn from them,” Boudreau said. “That’s all we can ask.”