UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders were stuck in the kind of losing funk that Bruce Boudreau knew was going to end in breakout fashion. But when his Washington Capitals jumped out to a two-goal lead Saturday, he thought the turnaround wouldn't come in this game.
"I think we knew if we could've got that next goal, it probably would've been over," the Caps' coach said. "But we didn't, and once we let them get back into the game."
Coming back in the game meant the Islanders tying and then beating Washington 5-3 at Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum. New York did so by outworking the Caps and taking advantage of crucial mistakes in the defensive end — and perhaps a relaxed Capitals' attitude with the lead.
"I think we have pretty good start. We score two goals. After that, we just stopped playing and give them opportunities to score goals," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "They're young, they're fresh and they want to win. After first period, we just stopped playing."
Even against a team in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, that's a recipe for disaster. Boudreau and veteran right wing Mike Knuble cautioned earlier in the day that the Caps couldn't look at the Islanders as a last-place team, even though they hadn't won since Oct. 15 (0-4-2 in their last six).
Two first-period goals appeared to set the tone of an elite team taking care of business, even on the tail end of a back-to-back on the road. At intermission, the Caps talked about staying the course and forcing New York to take risks.
That didn't happen.
"I mean we stopped doing what we were supposed to be doing," Boudreau said. "When you let a team in, especially a team that's been losing and then they feel it, then you're in trouble."
Goals by Frans Nielsen and Brian Rolston tied the score, and Matt Martin gave the Islanders the lead temporarily in the third. The Caps tied it, but P.A. Parenteau provided the dagger with 1:46 left.
Tomas Vokoun, who was solid in stretches but gave up admittedly three soft goals, took the blame on his shoulders.
"I didn't help the guys much, obviously. Those were bad goals," he said. "You can't win when your goalie gives up three bad goals."
The Caps also discovered they can't win if they stop skating with a two-goal lead. A sloppy second period bled over into the third, and a desperate New York team made some breaks and overcame some shaky play by Rick DiPietro.
At the end of the day, the Caps are still 9-3 and the Islanders have a long way to go to even get into contention. But that's perhaps the best lesson learned from this defeat — that inconsistent play, no matter the opponent, hurts big time.
"I think as a team collectively we took a few too many risky chances ourselves to score," forward Matt Hendricks said. "They've got a lot of really good offensive players over there, and they took advantage."
Hendricks said as much as he hates to laud opponents, the Islanders deserved credit. But the Caps also understood this was another example of what happens when they lose consistency.
"We started to beat ourselves, throwing pucks through the middle, not getting it deep. That's what happens: They get the puck on transition and score some goals," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "It's the same thing that happened in the Edmonton game, the Vancouver game — the same thing — and this one. So it's a little bit of a trend where we start to do to these things to ourselves and teams are capitalizing on us."
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