- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Adam Oates knew it could be a problem. The Washington Capitals were playing their only home game sandwiched between seven on the road, against a New York Islanders team that can be easy to overlook.

So when the Caps fell behind two goals in the first eight minutes, it was not much of a surprise. But when they erased the deficit in the second, the flat start became nothing but a memory.

“When we had the momentum, I thought that there was no way we were going to lose the game,” defenseman John Carlson said.

They did. Even after overcoming some expected obstacles, one third-period mistake led to a 3-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday night at Verizon Center. The Caps fell to seven points back of the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets and four points back of the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It stings. Every game at this point stings,” defenseman Steve Oleksy said. “You’re playing playoff hockey, and that’s a big two points for us. That’s a team that’s close to us and that’s a game we need to try to pull away from some of these teams.”

Instead, the Caps are 11th in the East, leap-frogged by the Islanders. They failed to keep pace with the Jets and Rangers, who won Tuesday night, and they had Brooks Laich and Mike Green to blame.

With just over five minutes left in the third period and the score tied, Laich was nearing the end of a shift and sent the puck behind the net to Green, who turned it over when pressed by Islanders forward Matt Moulson. Seconds later, the puck was on John Tavares’ stick and then in the net.

“Not a good interchange between Brooksie and Greenie,” Oates said. “A play that I’m sure those two guys would like back.”

Green was not made available to reporters who requested him after the loss. Laich took responsibility.

“I didn’t want to turn one over in the middle in front of our net, so I sent it behind the net,” Laich said. “Bad angle, bad decision by myself. I put Mike in trouble, and it resulted in the winning goal.”

It was a play that could go right 95 times out of 100. When it went wrong Tuesday night after Green fumbled the puck in his skates trying to make a move instead of rimming it around, it proved costly.

“Everybody gonna do mistakes. It’s hockey,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Somebody make mistakes, somebody have to cover. It was a bad turnover, but everybody can be in that kind of position.”

Ovechkin and other teammates didn’t want to throw Laich and Green under the bus. They know next time it could be them.

But against the Islanders, Green and Laich couldn’t get the job done to help the Caps salvage even one point.

“Most of the goals will be details that cost you goals,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “We come back, misplayed puck and then next thing you know it’s behind the net. You cannot judge the game on that play. I think it’s a 60-minute game and there’s other plays in the game that we could’ve done better.”

Like perhaps the entire first period. Oates said he addressed players with the message that the Caps cannot take the Islanders lightly. A strong start was preached, but it wasn’t executed.

“I don’t think we came out with the fire that we needed, with the intensity that we needed,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “Tonight we just didn’t play the system the way we had to to make it a simple hockey game. We made it difficult on ourselves.”

Coming back on goals by Ribeiro and Carlson kept the Caps from lamenting a bad start in their final home game before the trade deadline. But showing that resolve and coming away with nothing was no consolation.

Not for a team this desperate.

“No. We need points,” defenseman Jack Hillen said. “We dug ourselves a big hole to start the season and we’re not taking anything away from this game except that we didn’t get any points. We need to get points in games now. We want to make the playoffs. The goal is to make the playoffs. We didn’t get points. So nothing is taken from this game.”

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

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