The Caps ran out to a 3-1 lead, lost it and fell behind in the third period, then tied it with 42 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, 4-4. It would be the Kings scoring both goals in the freestyle competition, though, and Los Angeles made it two Gimmick wins in two tries in less than a week over the Caps, winning by a 5-4 margin.
It was the Caps getting off fast, courtesy of Alex Ovechkin, who scored a pair of power play goals in the first seven minutes. The first one came almost in slow motion. The Kings’ Justin Williams threw a backhand into the middle of the ice from the right wing wall where it was intercepted by Troy Brouwer in the right wing circle. Brouwer slid the puck out to John Carlson who steered it to Ovechkin in the left wing circle. Instead of a one-timer, Ovechkin collected the puck and delayed to see if there was a passing lane. Ovechkin tried to send the puck in deep to Nicklas Backstrom at the far post, but the puck appeared to hit defenseman Robyn Regehr and then into the net to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 2:24.
It was Ovechkin again less than five minutes later in a more conventional manner. After the Caps worked the puck around the back wall, it was Backstrom collecting it along the right wing wall and feeding Troy Brouwer in the middle. Brouwer turned and instead of shooting sent the puck across to Ovechkin who one-timed it into the net before goalie Jonathan Quick could get across.
That is the way the first period ended, and with it went much of the Caps’ momentum. Early in the second Mike Richards halved the lead when he was able to fend off Jack Hillen and whip the puck past goalie Jaroslav Halak’s left pad for a power play goal at the 2:53 mark. Dustin Penner restored the two-goal margin for the Caps late when he cleaned up some loose change after Chris Brown skated in and rifled a shot that Quick blocked but could not control.
That set the stage for a wild third period. Los Angeles scored just 45 seconds into the period when Dwight King skated through the low slot, grabbed a rebound of a Dustin Brown shot, and stuffed it through the pads of Halak. Eight minutes later the score was tied when Marian Gaborik sent a wicked wrist shot over Halak’s glove and into the top corner to make it 3-3. Four minutes after that, with the Caps reeling, Brown gave the Kings the lead on a play that started when Patrick Wey’s attempted pass from the faceoff circle to Halak’s right was deflected by King. The loose puck was picked up by Jarret Stoll, who flung a shot toward the Caps’ net. The puck was deadened in front enough for Brown to circle in and from the low slot fire it between Halak’s pads to give the Kings a 4-3 lead.
Things looked bleak for the Caps at that point, and it got worse when John Carlson was whistled for hooking Mike Richards with 59 seconds left in regulation, preventing what would have been a sure goal if Richards had ever gained possession of the puck. However, with the Caps down a man and their net empty, Dmitry Orlov dumped the puck deep into the Kings’ zone. Quick blocked it into the corner to his right where Drew Doughty reached it and backhanded it around the back wall toward partner Willie Mitchell.
However, Eric Fehr got there first and whipped the puck out to the high slot where Ovechkin was coming late. His shot was muffled by Mike Richards, but not enough to keep it from reaching the net where it ended up laying under Quick’s right pad. Evgeny Kuznetsov saw the loose puck and backhanded it into the net before Anze Kopitar could get his stick on the biscuit. The game was tied with 42 seconds left on Kuznetsov's first NHL goal.
That would be as close as the Caps would get, though. Kopitar and Jeff Carter would solve Halak in the Gimmick, while Kuznetsov and Fehr would fail to find the back of the net behind Quick, and the Caps had to settle for one point when they could have had two and perhaps should have had none.
-- Jack Hillen is going to file a disability claim for his time spent in Washington. He missed 25 of 48 games last season with a shoulder injury, then missed 60 games to a broken leg this season. Tonight he collided with Alex Ovechkin at center ice and was knocked into the Orion Nebula. He was down on the ice for several minutes but did skate off on his own.
-- For a time tonight the Caps were down to Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, and Jay Beagle as centers. Nicklas Backstrom left the game in the second period after sustaining an upper body injury, and Chris Brown missed a few shifts in the second when he was shaken up. Brown returned, Backstrom did not. Nice that Brown came back, but if Backstrom’s injury is anything more than a ding or dent, it could be catastrophic to the Caps’ playoff hopes.
-- The goal by Kuznetsov was just the first part of a critical sequence in securing a standings point. The Caps still had 1:43 of a penalty to kill that would spill over into the overtime when the Kings would be 4-on-3. The Caps killed off that penalty, due in no small part to some fine work by Mike Green.
-- The Caps wrapped up their third straight decision that went to the skills competition. It is the second time this season they played three straight games into the Gimmick phase. They went 2-1 in the first three-game run, 1-2 in the one just completed.
-- The injury situation – Backstrom going out in the second period, Brown and Troy Brouwer getting shaken up – made for some interesting ice time situations. For example, Tom Wilson skated 12:47 of even strength ice time. That would be his high for the season. Eric Fehr skated 16:33 at even strength, the most he has had since back in early January.
-- Wilson was credited with nine hits. He is now third among rookies in that metric (173), trailing Tampa Bay’s Radko Gudas and Columbus’ Boone Jenner.
-- Karl Alzner was credited with as many blocked shots on his own (7) as the entire Kings’ team.
-- In a sense, the Caps are fortunate to get out of this game with a point. The Kings out-shot the Caps, 36-27 and out-attempted them 75-43. At 5-on-5 the Kings had the better of Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages (68.0/65.0).
-- Ovechkin had a three-point night (2-1-3). It was his first multiple-goal game since March 1st against Boston (12 games), his first multi-point game since March 5th against Philadelphia (ten games). However, none of the points came at even strength (two power play goals, a shorthanded assist). He has gone 13 games without an even-strength point.
-- The four goals allowed by Jaroslav Halak is the most he allowed as a Capital to date, breaking a string of seven straight appearances allowing three or fewer goals.
In the end…
One is better than none, but not as good as two. Taking a two goal lead into the third period and losing it just is not going to cut it, not now. And this can be explained away only to a point by the absence of Backstrom, who can be a decent player in his own end when the situation requires. The Caps just did too much sitting back and catching when the Kings were pitching and nearly got run over in the process.
That the Caps came back with a late goal it to their credit, but this still has the vague feel of a point left on the table. And in leaving it there, the Caps let a chance to get into the top-eight slip away. Although they are tied with three other teams with 80 points – Columbus, Detroit, and Toronto – the Caps hold a tiebreaker only against Toronto for having played fewer games. With the Caps off until Saturday against Boston, they could go through the weekend at least (they also have a Sunday game against Nashville) without being able to claw that last step into the playoff group.
The price of losing a standings point, even with a late comeback, are steep at this time of year.