A lackluster showing during their homestand and on the road against the Nashville Predators left the Washington Capitals even more desperate for points and the postseason. They knew heading into Friday’s game against the New Jersey Devils that they simply had to win – no other result would be acceptable. The Caps watched their hopes slip away with a hard-fought 2-1 regulation loss to the Devils.
After Adam Oates’ uncharacteristic indictment of Alex Ovechkin “quitting” on a play that led to a Nashville goal, it was clear everyone was feeling the pressure. Ovechkin cut the tension a bit by scoring the game’s first goal, his 27th even strength goal, and 49th of the season.
Oates blew up the Jay Beagle experiment after six games (probably six games too long) and reunited Ovechkin with Nicklas Backstrom, and a now healthy Mikhail Grabovski. It took Ovechkin about 10 minutes of being separated from Beagle to score an ES goal, where the Caps have struggled much of this season.
The Capitals let off the gas in the second period, and allowed the Devils back in the game. They only managed seven shots during the period, while the Devils doubled up on that.
Cory Schneider handily stopped a Capitals chance at one end, and the Devils took it back and scored. The goal was officially credited to Tuomo Ruutu. Schneider was brilliant in net for the Devils, allowing them to remain spotless on the penalty kill all night.
Jaroslav Halak was equally as capable for the Capitals, keeping them clean despite five Devils power plays, and facing 31 shots.
The third period remained knotted at 1-1, until Ryan Carter took advantage of a bad defensive break by the Capitals and beat Halak for the go-ahead goal.
With the Capitals loss, New Jersey has now jumped ahead of Washington in the Metropolitan Division and the playoff race.
They face the New York Islanders on Saturday, and continue the road trip to St. Louis on Tuesday, and Carolina on Thursday. Barring huge failures by Columbus, New Jersey, and Toronto, if the Capitals can’t pull together points, they may miss the postseason for the first time since 2006.