- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2018

Andre Burakovsky raised his stick in frustration, motioning to slam it on the ice before stopping himself midway through the act. The Capitals forward had just gotten called for a crucial tripping penalty — an unnecessary one, at that.

Penalties proved to be the difference maker in the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime loss Thursday to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1.

Washington committed three penalties in the third period alone, leading to two goals that tied the game on each occasion.

Burakovsky’s mistake, which occurred in the Capitals’ offensive zone, led to a Seth Jones goal with 4:46 left, which ended up forcing the extra period.

“There’s no sense chasing Jonesy behind the net there,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s where you put yourself at risk.”

Burakovsky wasn’t the only one with a mental lapse. Winger Tom Wilson was called for a charging penalty just 1:18 into the third.

With the man-advantage, Blue Jackets forward Thomas Vanek created perfect positioning in front of the net to sneak one past Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

The Capitals’ penalty kill allowed two goals on just five shots.

“I’m just trying to finish my check there and I’m obviously not trying to take a penalty,” Wilson said. “That cost us the game … and that was a critical moment. You know what, I’ve got to be better and maybe pass up on that hit.

“We’ve got the lead there so maybe a big hit isn’t needed.”

Before the contest, Trotz emphasized the importance of special teams. Columbus finished the regular season as one of the NHL’s worst teams in both penalty kill and the power play. The Blue Jackets ranked 25th on the power play this season — and 30th on the road. Though those numbers improved down the stretch, giving up a power-play goal would be costly.

Likewise, the Capitals had to take advantage of Blue Jackets’ porous penalty kill, which killed off just 70.6 percent of penalties on the road (30th in the NHL).

Washington had their chances and did manage to swing Game 1 early. After Josh Anderson was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a hit on defenseman Michal Kempny, the Capitals scored two goals in a span of 29 seconds to take a 2-0 lead.

But the power play went dry, otherwise.

The Capitals had 12 power play shots on goal. But star Alex Ovechkin never found the net from his signature spot, despite Washington’s repeated efforts to find him on the power play.

“Quite honestly, although we give up two, I thought we killed penalties very well tonight,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “We’re just doing it too often.”

The Capitals, meanwhile, couldn’t kill the penalties when they counted. If they had, the tune of Game 1 would have been much different.

“You’ve got a lead there, you’ve got to be smart,” Grubauer said. “It doesn’t matter what it is. Whatever you do, protect the middle of the ice. Don’t make it hard on yourself basically.

“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit again.”

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