The Washington Capitals hoped whatever juice fueled Tuesday's thrilling comeback victory would carry over to the rest of this critical homestand and beyond. It seemed a perfect springboard for a postseason push. Maybe, just maybe, it was the start of a fairy tale finish.
This season, however, has been more like a nightmare; one that, apparently, won't end anytime soon.
New Jersey forward Zach Parise completed his hat trick less than four minutes into the second period, and the Devils pummeled the turnover-prone Capitals, 5-0, in front of an agitated Verizon Center crowd Friday night.
"It brings us down a bit, but we've got to regroup," forward Matt Hendricks said. "There's no time to be down.
This one was avert-your-eyes ugly — a major step back in Washington's quest to gain ground on Florida in the race for the Southeast Division title.
It wasn't that the Capitals were listless from the opening faceoff. The irony was that they began Friday's game as they did Tuesday's 3-2 overtime win over the New York Islanders. Their urgency and energy were clear in the early scoring chances they generated.
But several big saves by New Jersey goalie Johan Hedberg and a slew of Capitals miscues deflated the home team.
"I think we went back to our old habits, which is trying to do too much at the lines, trying to get a little individual and everyone wants to be the hero," forward Troy Brouwer said. "We have to make sure we're doing the right things and playing the right way. That's what won us the game a couple nights ago against the Islanders. Tonight I thought we tried to do too much."
The Capitals failed miserably in attempting to extend their winning streak to four games. It would have been their longest since they started the season with seven straight — a euphoric spell that that now seems like several lifetimes ago.
It was easy to dream of playoff success after Brouwer on Tuesday scored twice in the last 3:29 to force overtime. In the Capitals' first game after letting the trade deadline pass without making any moves, they showed tenacity that figures to serve them well as they try to claw their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Once they fell behind Friday, however, there was no counterpunch.
"We came back the other night, but we're not going to do it every night," coach Dale Hunter said.
Parise opened the scoring at 11:29 of the first period on a power play that resulted from a high-sticking penalty on Hendricks.
"Ill-advised penalty on my part," Hendricks said. "I wish I could take that back."
No kidding. That started the avalanche.
Parise scored from a sharp angle on the right after receiving David Clarkson's backhanded, between-his-legs pass from in front of goal. New Jersey's synchronization and finishing quality highlighted everything the Capitals lacked.
From that point, New Jersey capitalized on Washington's gaffes.
Parise's second goal was an uncontested rebound following Ilya Kovalchuk's shot from the top of the right circle. The puck squeaked between goalie Michal Neuvirth's arm and body. The Devils gained possession on the play by stealing the puck at their blue line from defenseman Mike Green.
Former Capital Dainius Zubrus made it 3-0 after Washington forward Alex Semin turned the puck over on a clearing attempt.
"We take a bad penalty, two bad turnovers and the puck is in our net all three times," Brouwer said. "You can't come back from that."
Parise scored his third after Capitals defenseman John Carlson turned the puck over along the boards exiting the zone. New Jersey turned it into a 2-on-1 after Green tried to jump a pass but came up empty.
Patrik Elias completed the scoring with a short-handed goal that resulted from another 2-on-1.
"Our power play is absolutely killing us," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "We're making wrong reads. We're not backing each other up when there's a bouncing puck. We're giving up breakaways and goals every game, and we're not scoring or even creating a chance."
Just add that to the list of the Capitals' problems. Brouwer accounted for them and summed it up best
"We looked like a timid, beaten-down hockey team," he said.
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