The Washington Capitals were not happy, even though they left Verizon Center on Saturday night with their seventh straight victory and two valuable points.
What they did in blowing a lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning was much more of a concern in the aftermath of a 6-5 overtime win than snatching this one back after a four-goal lead evaporated.
“We got the two points, but how we play in the third period, we can’t do like that,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We can’t give team that skilled that kind of opportunities out there. It's just embarrassing.”
Words like embarrassing would have been just the start had the Caps lost in regulation or overtime. Instead, they could take solace in their 11th win in the past 13 games that pushed them to 48 points, four up on the Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast Division with six to play.
But the mood in the locker room was far from celebratory.
“We feel good that we got two points, but we don't feel good about how close we made it,” defenseman Jack Hillen said. “Sometimes when you get a big lead, the game's really hard to play. And we didn't do a great job of staying in it. We tried, but we didn't do a great job. And then we got the two points in overtime, and that's all that matters.”
But for months coach Adam Oates has emphasized the method over the madness of this 48-game season. Because of that, coughing up a four-point lead by allowing four goals in 18:22 is a large part of what the Caps took away from Saturday night.
“You've got to keep your foot on the gas,” left wing Jason Chimera said. “Anytime you have that kind of lead, no matter what I think you tend to put your foot off the gas a bit for some reason. You can't do that in this league.”
In the eyes of history, it's the first time the Caps blew a four-goal lead since Dec. 11, 2006, according to STATS. That game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington lost 5-4 in a shootout. This one didn't get that far because of defenseman Mike Green's second straight game-winning goal, a laser on the power play 2:59 into overtime.
“They were giving me the shots on that power play. And then I just had to take it. I just had to be confident shooting the puck,” Green said. “But it [stinks]. That last goal there, that could have cost us the game. Not that it was one person’s fault or anything, but that shouldn’t happen. And the five guys that are on the ice have to take responsibility for these goals and collectively as a group we need to address this.”
Green was talking about Teddy Purcell's goal with 2:35 left in the third period that completed the Caps' collapse. They had taken a 5-1 lead with 14:34 left in the second period when Eric Fehr beat Tampa Bay goalie Mathieu Garon.
But that was the beginning of the end of the Caps' easy night. Oates said it was “human nature” to let up a little with that big of a lead.
“You get a four-goal lead, you think the game's over,” Chimera said. “Then the teams play a little looser and away they go. They had a couple chances to score and then you're on your heels a bit, and when you're on your heels it's never good.”
Oates at first couldn't come with up an “easy explanation” for what happened. Players couldn't either. But one theory has to do with the Lightning's desperation.
“When a team does get behind that much, they play so reckless, and you’re not trained to handle of reckless team,” the Caps' coach said. “The D jump in at crazy situations, and you’re not really trained to do that. If the game’s a more normal game at the start, they wouldn’t have played so crazy. But I’m not trying to use that as an excuse, it’s just hard sometimes.”
What was so jarring about Saturday night was how easy the Caps made it look in building a 5-1 lead. They just about toyed with Tampa Bay, which couldn't do anything right until it showed life beginning with Marty St. Louis' goal late in the second period.
“Terrible third period. Myself and just that,” said Green, who was on the ice for three of the Lightning's goals. “We’ve been talking about how we’ve been finding ways to win and how we’re playing with leads and we sat back on our heels and we let them come at us and score goals. And we can’t let that happen, starting with myself.”
Green found redemption with the game-winner, set up by Mike Ribeiro and Fehr. But forward Marcus Johansson deserves credit for drawing Vinny Lecavalier's penalty that led to the power play.
Johansson's effort driving to the net was perhaps the Caps' strongest play since Fehr's goal made it 5-1.
“It's almost like we put ourselves in bad position before OT,” Ovechkin said. “In overtime JoJo make a good play, go to the net, take a penalty. It's good we use it.”
Had the Caps not taken advantage of the power play, there's no telling how this game would have ended. Judging by Tampa Bay's relentless pressure, it didn't look good.
Oates, however, said he and his team deserved a victory. They got it.
“We’re gonna wake up and we’ll have our two points and that’s all that matters in this scheme,” Green said. “But we have to learn from this. We can’t let situations like that happen. They used to call us Cardiac Kids for a reason and we showed that tonight.”
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.