WASHINGTON – Every point matters more than ever to Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, who are part of a logjam in the Eastern Conference—and on the outside of the playoff race, looking in, at the moment.
So blowing two-goal leads, as the Capitals tend to do, and losing key players such as centre Nicklas Backstrom to injury are not exactly what they want. All of those bad things happened to the Capitals in a 5-4 shootout loss Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings, who came back after Ovechkin scored two early power-play goals.
“Obviously, you miss ‘Backy,’ but every team has guys that go out,” said Capitals coach Adam Oates, who would only say that Backstrom has an upper-body injury. “You’ve got 19 other guys that have got to do the job. We’ve got plenty of guys that can do the job.”
Also “being evaluated,” as Oates put it, after the game was defenceman Jack Hillen, who was involved in a scary moment halfway through overtime, colliding with Ovechkin at centre ice. Hillen’s helmet slammed into Ovechkin’s chest, and the game was put on hold for a bit. Ovechkin got the wind knocked out of him and took a knee, but returned to the game. Hillen got the worst of the impact and remained face-down on the ice while a trainer checked on him.
Washington is ninth in the East, one spot out of the playoffs based on tiebreakers, even though it is one of four teams with 80 points, alongside No. 7 Columbus, No. 8 Detroit and No. 10 Toronto. The Capitals have nine games left, starting Saturday at home against Boston.
So among the Capitals, there was a mix of relief at the idea of picking up one point against Los Angeles—and disappointment at failing to get two after leading 2-0 thanks to Ovechkin before the game was 7 1/2 minutes old, and then being ahead 3-1 entering the third period.
“There’s no excuse. We have to find a way to win when we are up two goals,” Washington forward Marcus Johansson said. “It hurts a lot. You never know when it comes down to it—in or out (of the playoffs) by one point.”
Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter scored in the shootout for the Kings, and goalie Jonathan Quick caught Eric Fehr’s attempt after rookie forward Evgeny Kuznetsov whiffed on Washington’s opening shot.
Kuznetsov had tied the wild, back-and-forth game with 41.5 seconds left in regulation on his first NHL goal, a short-hander that came when he reached in to knock home a loose puck after it trickled through Quick’s pads on Ovechkin’s shot.
Plenty of fans thought Ovechkin was responsible for his third goal of the night, and they tossed their hats onto the ice. But his total stayed at a league-leading 48.
While Kuznetsov’s goal got the crowd excited, in the end, the Kings wound up winning their seventh consecutive road game and their fourth game in a row overall. They began Tuesday sixth in the West, and their playoff status is looking a lot more secure than Washington’s.
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter wasn’t pleased with the way his team started Tuesday. But he liked the way his players turned things around.
“We just kind of hung in there,” Sutter said.
Mike Richards, Dwight King, Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown scored for the Kings in regulation.
The most important goal might have been King’s, which came 45 seconds into the third period and pulled Los Angeles within 3-2.
“The boys stuck together, stuck with it,” Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said. “We knew the whole time we were going to get back in that game.”
NOTES: LW Dustin Penner netted his first goal for the Capitals since arriving from Anaheim at the trade deadline. … The Kings have seven victories in a row over Washington. … Midway through the second period, Capitals F Troy Brouwer and Kings D Willie Mitchell were both called for penalties after a skirmish in front of Quick’s net. Brouwer stayed down on the ice for a bit, then was helped up and led to the locker room. It wasn’t immediately clear what was wrong. … The Kings’ record is eight straight road wins, in the 1974-75 season.