- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2014

Was it pretty? Oh no. Not at all. For the 12th time this season the Capitals blew a two-goal lead. And for the fifth time that happened in the third period.

That didn’t inspire much confidence in the fans in attendance at Verizon Center on Friday night. It felt like a matter of time until the Vancouver Canucks put a dagger in the Caps’ fading Stanley Cup playoff hopes. These weekend games against the Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs (Sunday) amounted to must wins. The players themselves said as much this week.

Well, defenseman Mike Green helped pull one out of the fire with his goal at 10:19 of the third period to regain the lead for Washington, which survived a late power play and the extra attacker for the pulled goalie in a 4-3 victory.

“We had a 3-1 lead, but we didn’t deserve it,” Caps coach Adam Oates said. “We got a power play goal which is big and then we got the third goal, which is a nice one. But the first 10 minutes of the 2nd [period] we gave it away seven times. We left [goalie Jaroslav Halak] hanging. And I said it going off. ‘Let’s not kid ourselves. That was not a good period’. But we’re in a good position now.”

They didn’t put that good position to use, however. Goals from Shawn Matthias and Jannik Hansen just 3:06 apart tied the game at 3-3 and left Washington reeling. It took Green’s goal to revive them. His was set up by a board battle won by rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov and a beuatiful set up by teammate Nicklas Backstrom from behind the net. Green was surprised by how open the top right corner of the net was when Vancouver goalie Eddie Lack dropped into the butterfly. He didn’t miss, raising his arms in the air in relief as much as anything.

“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit there and made it difficult on ourselves,” Green said. “But we stuck with it. Obviously, we need the points. We were fortunate tonight, but sometimes you get those waves throughout periods that momentum shifts and they had it there for a bit. We’ve got to make sure that we eliminate that when we notice it right away.”

The Caps received only a little help on the scoreboard. They jumped New Jersey in the Metropolitan Division standings and are now back in fifth place. The Devils lost at Florida, 4-3. But the New York Rangers won at Winnipeg, 4-2, and took over second place in the division.

The Detroit Red Wings, fighting for the final wild card spot with Washington, among other teams, earned a 2-1 shootout win over Edmonton. That leaves the Caps (31-27-10, 72 points) one point behind the ninth-place Red Wings (30-23-13, 73 points) and the No. 8 seed Philadelphia Flyers (33-25-7, 73 points) for that last playoff spot. But the Flyers have played three fewer games.

The road still isn’t easy for the Caps, who received three assists from Kuznetsov in just his third NHL. One of those came on a beautiful slap pass across the ice to teammate Tom Wilson, who buried the puck past Lack for a 3-1 lead at 12:35 of the second period. Joel Ward opened the scoring for Washington with his 19th of the season in the first period. Alex Ovechkin added his league-leading 45th on the power play at 8:28 of the second.

“It’s crunch time and games are getting down to the end,” Ward said. “Every game is important. After the last couple games that we’ve had, coming up short [against Pittsburgh], I think we just wanted to win here tonight.”