The Washington Capitals yesterday appeared to have a victory in hand … until the final minute of regulation, that is. They surrendered a goal to the Buffalo Sabres that forced overtime and then another to lose the game in the extra session.
It was Washington’s first overtime loss this season, but it came at a time when any loss is huge. Yesterday, they allowed the Sabres to come back for a 3-2 victory at MCI Center, dropping the floundering Caps deeper into a chasm that may be bottomless.
What matters is this: It was Washington’s third straight defeat and sixth in its last seven games, a stretch in which it has been outscored 24-13. The team is not out of the playoff picture by any means, but it is certainly endangering its hopes for the postseason. The Caps are five games under .500 (20-25-8-1) and unable to defend consistently.
“We always find a way to lose,” Jaromir Jagr said in the nearly deserted Caps dressing room yesterday. “Bad breaks … and then overtime, bad bounces. … Even when we get the lead, it’s like [we are] thinking they can score.”
Miroslav Satan scored for the winners with 53 seconds left in regulation, and Stu Barnes tipped a drive by Alexei Zhitnik at 1:30 of the extra period to send Washington’s best performance of the week down the drain. The Caps’ overtime record this season is 5-1-8.
“It was a little wrist shot from the point, and as a goalie you’ve got to be patient and wait for it to come,” Olie Kolzig said. “[The shot] was about three feet off the ice, and about five feet out, Stu redirected it the other way. You just hope you’re quick enough to react to it. He put it over my right pad inside the post.
“We were on the winning end of a lot of overtime games this year, and that was our first loss, but I think it was even tougher because we had the lead with a minute to go against a team that’s behind us and we’re desperate to get wins. I won’t say we found a way to not win the game again because we did give a pretty good effort.”
It was a dramatic improvement from Saturday’s 6-3 collapse against the Rangers in New York, but it also illustrated how close teams in the league are now, how one mistake can give a team a second chance and another mistake can be fatal.
“We just didn’t get the job done defensively,” coach Ron Wilson said, using a phrase that has become commonplace this season. “When they pulled their goalie, we had a missed assignment in front of the net and got a little confused on the last goal when Brendan Witt lost his stick. A bit of a fluky goal for them, but nonetheless, you put things on net and things will happen.”
Jagr had given the Caps the lead seven minutes into the second when he chipped a feed from Stephen Peat past Martin Biron. But Barnes came back five minutes later with his first of the night, a wrist shot from the right circle through Kolzig’s legs.
What appeared to be the game-winner came off Peter Bondra’s stick, a backhand of a rebound nearly 16 minutes into the third period. That stood until Satan, standing alone at the right edge of the crease, rapped a lose puck into the open side past Kolzig with 53 seconds left in regulation.
“That’s been the case all season long,” Kolzig said when asked if the Caps were a better team than they’ve shown. “It’s frustating, real frustrating.”
“It’s so frustrating,” wing Ulf Dahlen agreed. “There have been so many games this season where we’ve had the lead at the end of the game and we end up losing. … It’s really, really frustrating.”