- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 22, 2012

PITTSBURGH — Brooks Laich sat at his locker alone in the visiting dressing room at Consol Energy Center, head in his hands.

The Washington Capitals managed to claw back from a devastating start and pick up a point with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the body language afterward belied the impressive comeback that kept Sunday’s game from being a rout.

“It’s a depressing loss, but it was a good battle,” goaltender Michal Neuvirth said. “We battled hard, and they got the lucky bounce at the end.”

The bounce came about a minute-and-a-half into overtime, as the puck ricocheted off the end boards and right to a wide-open Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins superstar, who has seven goals in the third period and overtime in the past five games barely beat Neuvirth to light the lamp.

It was exactly what the Caps knew they couldn’t allow against Malkin, who also had a couple of assists.

“He’s an elite player, and to find that puck coming off the back boards and he’s so quick to get it in,” coach Dale Hunter said. “Neuvy was coming hard, and he would’ve been there. Most guys [other than Malkin] would’ve took another second and he [Neuvirth] would’ve had it.”

From the outside, just forcing overtime and picking up a point was impressive after the way things started Sunday. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang scored eight seconds into a power play at 4:51 of the first period, and left wing James Neal made it 2-0 just 61 seconds later.

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin bemoaned Washington’s effort in the first period. “Not terrible, but we don’t have any opportunity to score goals,” Ovechkin said of the Capitals being outshot 9-4. “We don’t have hitting. We just give them anything they want to do.”

It changed in the second, as the Penguins managed just five shots and the Caps tied the score with goals by Laich and Semin 3:36 apart. Ovechkin assisted on both and scored to give Washington the lead just 1:08 into the third for his first three-point game of the season.

Playing without center Marcus Johansson (illness), the Caps did concede some satisfaction for not folding when facing an early deficit. A penalty-filled second period was full of scrums and was a perfect way for the Caps to get engaged.

“For us to hang in there and play as hard as we did, I think that was good. I know we showed some emotion,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “We got in there and mixed it up a little bit, and that´s good for our team to get in and stand up for each other.”

But what Hunter called a “breakdown” allowed the Penguins‘ Neal to tie it with 7:06 left and set the stage for Malkin’s heroics in overtime. On the game-winner, it appeared as if defenseman Roman Hamrlik left Malkin open, and Laich was unable to get back to prevent the Caps’ third loss in four games.

“[Malkin is] tough to play against. He´s a big, strong guy,” Wideman said. “But we let him get in behind us there and kind of get lost on the overtime winner there. He´s not going to miss that one.”

Just like that, 61:31 of some of the most entertaining hockey the Caps have played all season meant little. The focus now is on the standings, and picking up one point meant remaining in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and not passing Florida atop the Southeast Division.

Despite the run-and-gun, back-and-forth game that appeared to resemble classic Caps-Pens games of recent years, it was a sour ending to a 1-1-1 road trip.

“We played .500,” Hunter said, “But we’ve got to be better than that.”

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