WASHINGTON – The Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals both began the game one point away from a playoff spot.
The Stars? They played like a team determined to get to there for the first time since 2008.
The Capitals? They looked like a group tired of having their yearly routines disrupted by such a trivial thing as post-season hockey.
It was no contest. The Stars’ 5-0 win over the Capitals on Tuesday night was a victory of confidence over embarrassment. Dallas has won five of six, outscoring opponents 16-5 over their past three games.
“It’s a big obstacle,” said Ray Whitney, who scored in the second period. “It’s been, what, five years now? … We’re no different than anybody else who’s been out for a while. We want to get in pretty bad.”
The victory, at least for a few hours, moved the Stars one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes for the final post-season berth in the Western Conference. The Coyotes then moved into a tie with Dallas by picking up a point in a shootout loss to Winnipeg later Tuesday.
“It’s scoreboard-watching time,” Whitney said.
The Capitals, meanwhile, were booed heavily in their home rink, particularly after an abysmal stretch in the second period in which they allowed several odd-man rushes, took a slashing penalty and gave up two goals in 34 seconds.
“If I was a fan, I’d be booing us right now,” said goaltender Braden Holtby, who relieved Jaroslav Halak in the second period after Dallas’ third goal. “A playoff race like we’re in? To lose 5-0, it’s awful. There’s no words for it.”
The Capitals began their run of playoff seasons in 2008. Like Dallas, they started the day as a ninth-place team, but they ended up dropping a spot to 10th. They would lose a tiebreaker against every team contending for the final post-season spots in the Eastern Conference. They have lost four straight and were shut out for the seventh time this season.
Alex Ovechkin – the league’s leading goal-scorer – hasn’t scored a 5-on-5 goal in more than a month.
“If somehow we make the playoffs playing like this, who are we kidding?” coach Adam Oates said. “We have to figure out a way to get better. We have to stick together.”
Tyler Seguin scored his 33rd goal, Dustin Jeffrey got his first two of the season, and Whitney and Ryan Garbutt also scored for the Stars. Alex Chiasson had three assists, and Kari Lehtonen made 35 saves for his fourth shutout.
After over-relying on Seguin and Jamie Benn to carry the scoring load, Dallas suddenly has been getting points from seemingly everyone.
“If you look at our top line, I think a lot of teams are focusing on that. They’re getting the harder matchups,” said Jeffrey, who has been back and forth to the minors after being claimed off waivers in November. “We have to be able to score up and down our lineup.”
Seguin redirected Benn’s wrister from the left circle in the first period, then there were Capitals miscues aplenty in the second, with the Stars taking advantage.
Alex Goligoski’s long pass sprang a 2-on-0 break for Whitney’s goal. Jeffrey scored shortly afterward, then again in the third. Garbutt capped the scoring with a short-handed goal on a breakaway.
“We had a lot of 2-on-1s, and we even had a 2-on-0,” Whitney said. “Not often do you see that many scoring chances.”
Ovechkin last had a 5-on-5 point on Feb. 27, a streak of 16 games. Nicklas Backstrom, who leads the teams in points, is also without a 5-on-5 goal since Feb. 27.
Multiple players in the Capitals locker room faulted the team’s lack of urgency.
“It can’t be justified. It’s terrible. … It’s like we expect the next guy to make the play,” defenceman Karl Alzner said. “It’s been kind of off and on like that for a lot of the season, and we’ve got away with it at times. It clearly hasn’t worked the last little bit, and you pay for it in the end.”
Notes: D Patrik Nemeth made his NHL debut for the Stars as D Aaron Rome sat out with an injury. . Capitals D Patrick Wey sat out after taking an uppercut in a fight that forced him out of Saturday’s loss at Nashville. Washington RW Dustin Penner (illness) and D Jack Hillen (upper-body injury) also missed the game. … Capitals F Chris Brown played after getting called up from the AHL earlier in the day.
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