Not that such an opportunity would be easy to cash in. To take a wild card spot the Capitals would have to defeat or take to extra time the Boston Bruins, a team coming to Washington having earned points in 14 straight games (13-0-1).
Make that 15 straight games.
The Bruins dominated the Capitals in the opening period, converted opportunities in the second period, and held off the home team in the third period to leave Washington with a 4-2 win at Verizon Center this afternoon.
The Bruins overwhelmed the Capitals in the first period, outshooting the home team by a 15-9 margin and going to the first intermission with a 30-14 edge in shot attempts. What the Bruins did not do was score. Neither did the Caps.
That situation resolved itself less than three minutes into the second period when Boston was a step ahead in every phase of a sequence. First it was David Krejci getting to a loose puck along the wall just inside the Bruins’ blue line a step ahead of Eric Fehr. When Krejci sent the puck up along the wall, it skidded past a linesman then past the stick of defenseman Karl Alzner. It made its way to Carl Soderberg who backhanded a pass to Jarome Iginla just before John Carlson could get a body on Soderberg. Iginla skated in alone on goalie Braden Holtby, and just before Tom Wilson could close the distance on the back check Iginla snapped the puck through Holtby’s pads, and it was 1-0.
Five minutes later the Bruins had a 2-0 lead. With Fehr off for hooking the Bruins gained the Caps’ zone with speed, Dougie Hamilton carrying the puck through the middle. Hamilton curled off to his left, throwing the puck across to Loui Eriksson on the right side. Eriksson found Patrice Bergeron coming down the middle, and Bergeron one-timed the puck to the net. The puck hit the skate of Carl Soderberg in front, tipping the puck through Holtby’s pads to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
If the Caps were holding out hope that the “the most dangerous lead in hockey” would be wiped clean, Boston put an end to that just 41 seconds after the Soderberg goal. Jarome Iginla got his second of the game – 30th of the season – when he followed up his own shot and backhanded a rebound past Holtby’s right pad to make it 3-0.
The Caps made it respectable in the last minute of the period when they gave the Bruins some of their own medicine. It started with Mike Green skating the puck down the left side. As he crossed the Boston blue line he flipped the puck at the net, looking for a deflection from Jason Chimera seaming down the middle. Chimera was marked by Johnny Boychuk, who actually deflected Green’s attempt into goalie Chad Johnson. The puck was not handled cleanly, though, and Chimera’s momentum put him in position to tap in the loose puck from Johnson’s right, making it 3-1 Bruins at the second intermission.
Boston appeared content to run out the clock in the last 20 minutes, but they did add a goal on another power play. It started with Dougie Hamliton tapping his stick on the ice calling for the puck. He got it from Patrice Bergeron at the right point. Hamilton fired a shot at the Capitals’ net where a group had congregated. The puck was stopped, but Bergeron, darting in from the left wing wall after sending the puck to Hamilton, was alone to Holtby’s right to shove the puck into the back of the net to make it 4-1.
The Caps got some window dressing at the end, Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring in the last minute when Chad Johnson was caught in no-man’s land 20 feet from the net trying to beat Troy Brouwer to a loose puck to the right of the net. When Johnson missed and was briefly tangled up with Brouwer, Kuznetsov swooped in and wristed the puck from a severe angle into the far top corner of the net for the final tally of the day, Boston winning, 4-2.
-- Iginla’s two goals made it 30 for the season, making him just the 12th player in the last 30 years to reach that mark in a season having reached the age of 36 or older.
-- Chad Johnson’s win makes him 11-0-1 over his last 14 appearances for Boston. Over that span he has a goals against average of 1.83 and a save percentage of .934.
-- Marcus Johansson had an excellent chance to break a rough spell in which he had one goal over 29 games. Troy Brouwer set him up almost on a tee from the inside edge of the right wing circle for an open look early in the third period that might have brought the Caps back within a goal. He was denied on the attempt, and what might have been the Caps’ last chance to get back into the game passed by.
-- Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal, but none were especially threatening. Average shot distance was 41 feet and none closer than 34 feet.
-- Two pairs twice victimized. John Carlson and Karl Alzner were on for two goals against, as was the pair of John Erskine and Patrick Wey. Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov escaped unscathed.
-- Green was one of the few Caps of which it might be said, “he played a pretty good game.” In almost 23 minutes Green had an assist, four shots on goal, eight shot attempts, and three blocked shots.
-- Boston moved to 39-5-1 when scoring the game’s first goal. Only St. Louis has more wins (40) when scoring first.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov is now tied with Jay Beagle for 17th on the team in scoring (7 points) and is tied for 40th in scoring among rookie forwards. After nine games.
-- The loss made it consecutive losses for the Caps on this abbreviated home stand (0-1-1). It is the first time they lost consecutive games on the same home stand since losing in shootouts to both Buffalo and San Jose January 12th and 14th.
-- OK, in five full games since The Great Experiment began, here is how the even strength points break down… Alex Ovechkin: 0, Jay Beagle: 0, Marcus Johansson: 0. How’s it working, Caps fans? Oh, it hardly gets much better. Nicklas Backstrom: 1, Troy Brouwer: 1, Evgeny Kuznetsov: 2. Meanwhile, the third line… Eric Fehr: 1, Jason Chimera: 2, Joel Ward: 3. And it was that third line who put on a show of cycling and controlling the puck for almost a half minute in the Bruins' zone that ended when Boston took a penalty in the seventh minute of the third period.
In the end…
Just another in a season full of opportunities the Capitals let pass by. Most assuredly, this was hardly low-hanging fruit. Boston is arguably the best team in the league at the moment. However, the Caps looked as if they were still shuffling along in robe and slippers for the first 25-30 minutes of the early-starting game. Braden Holtby kept the Caps in it in the first period, but Boston’s relentless pressure was too much as the minutes wore on. And while there might be those who think the Caps were prepared to make a game of it late in the second period and early in the third, 10-15 minutes worth of effort is not going to win many games, and there was still the fact that the Bruins – a team that has not allowed more than two goals in a game in three weeks – had a 3-0 lead when the Caps finally woke up. Washington was never really in this game.
And so it goes. The Caps go to Nashville on Sunday in a game that they just about have to have to stay within reach of a playoff spot. This is where the schedule takes one last nasty turn for the Caps. Five of the Caps’ last eight games are on the road, and two of the home games are against Chicago and Tampa Bay, both teams having reached the 40-win mark already. It just is not going to get any easier from here on out.