John Tavares took advantage of a turnover by Mike Green to score the game-winner as the Washington Capitals lost 3-2 to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
Washington’s deficit in the Southeast Division grew to seven points and it fell four points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Brooks Laich took responsibility for the play, as he sent the puck behind the net where Green eventually coughed it up. Coach Adam Oates called it a “tired play” by a tired player.
“Bad angle, bad decision by myself,” Laich said. “I put Mike in trouble and it resulted in the winning goal.”
The Caps’ winning streak was snapped at four as they failed to keep up in a crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Islanders moved ahead of the Caps in the standings, 33 to 31 points.
“It stings. Every game at this point stings,” defenseman Steve Oleksy said. “You’re playing playoff hockey, and that’s a big two points for us. That’s a team that’s close to us and that’s a game we need to try to pull away from some of these teams.”
With just over five minutes left in the third period in a tie game, Green tried to do too much in his own zone and lost the puck when pressured by Matt Moulson. Moulson turned it over and dished it to Tavares, who beat Braden Holtby for his 20th goal of the season at 14:42.
“I think it was Green kind of just fumbling it there, so Matt did a great job getting it on the forecheck,” Tavares said. “He got his stick on the puck, which he does so well, and I just jumped into the lane there and … I got a lot on it and it just felt good when it left my stick. Happy it went in.”
Oates was worried about how his team would come out in the first game back from a four-game road trip. He told his team not to take the Islanders lightly back home.
“You go on the road there’s kind of a little bit of an us-against-them mentality,” Oates said Tuesday morning. “You get on a little roll. And you’re out there for a long time. And you come home, back in your familiar surroundings, see your family, friends.”
That concern was justified as the Caps fell behind just early in on Michael Grabner’s goal. They were down 2-0 less than eight minutes in when the defense left Josh Bailey wide open.
“I guess the first 20 minutes we should’ve maybe be more aware, obviously knowing that maybe the legs weren’t there and be probably more mentally ready for it,” center Mike Ribeiro said.
Oates’ team that lacked inspiration and defensive awareness in the first period came out of the doldrums in the second, tying the score at 2 on goals by Mike Ribeiro and John Carlson.
“I thought that when we had the momentum, I thought that there was no way we were going to lose the game,” Carlson said.
The mistakes by Laich and Green cost the Caps dearly.
“I think Brooksie was exhausted there and make a bad play and we make a turnover,” said captain Alex Ovechkin, who had his goal streak snapped at five. “We make one mistake in the third and it cost us the game. But it’s not blame on like Brooksie or somebody else. It’s blame on us.”