- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2012

Chants of “Ovi, Ovi” filled the air at Verizon Center. Alex Ovechkin was rolling along, and so were the Washington Capitals, as the captain’s Bauer stick was starting to look like a shovel as he buried the Winnipeg Jets with two goals.

At the end of the night, though, Ovechkin was standing in a towel shaking his head, unable to come up with answers after the Caps choked away a three-goal lead and lost 4-3 in overtime Friday night. When there were answers to blowing away a crucial point, they weren’t pretty.

“We [expletive] the bed,” defenseman Karl Alzner said.

It was an utter collapse that started with two Jets goals in a span of 1:11 in the second period and continued throughout a third that was painful to watch. Winnipeg pressed, and the Caps sat back and got outshot 17-2.

The Capitals hardly had the puck and spent so much time hemmed in their own zone that offense was impossible to generate. It was exactly what Washington talked about after the second intermission: This was the season for the Jets, who are clinging to faint playoff hopes.

“We were just kind of panicking, throwing pucks everywhere. We knew they were going to come at us, too. Their season was on the line for them and you knew they were going to come,” forward Jason Chimera said. “We had better than that, that’s for sure. It’s a disappointing end to which was a good period-and-a-half of hockey. Kind of gone to waste. I don’t know. We seemed to be panicking with the puck, which is never good.”

It’s never good when a team forces a goaltender to dominate, like Michal Neuvirth (38 saves) tried to do in the third period. He kept the Jets at bay even with the ice tilted. Capitals coach Dale Hunter shortened his bench and never called a timeout.

The Caps never found a way to stop the tide, and a few players insisted they weren’t trying to play conservatively by design.

“You kind of put your tail between your legs there when a team presses as hard as they did,” Alzner said. “We were just trying to get the puck out. You want to get the puck out, but when there’s time to make plays, you’ve got to make the plays. They didn’t give us too many chances to, but when they did, we were just throwing it out.”

It was a disaster, culminating in Tim Stapleton’s overtime winner. Matt Hendricks struggled to find answers, and Ovechkin was at a loss to explain. He said the Capitals “just totally [stopped] playing” after the Jets broke through, which Alzner noted as unacceptable.

“I don’t know,” Ovechkin said. “We get the lead 3-0 and [we’re] supposed to play simple and smart hockey, but it cost us a huge two points. We get one, but we gave them two.”

The Florida Panthers losing in a shootout allowed the Caps to keep pace in the Southeast Division, and not winning in regulation still hurts the Jets, who are four points out. Washington remains four points back of Florida and is now tied for eighth place with the Buffalo Sabres, who beat the New York Rangers.

“We never should’ve lost that [game],” Alzner said. “We just fell apart pretty much. It was an embarrassing, embarrassing loss.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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