It was a sight that recalled a nightmarish memory.
The Washington Capitals were deep in the defensive zone, embroiled in a fierce third period with the New York Rangers. An errant swipe at the puck by Nicklas Backstrom instead clipped the face of a Rangers forward, drawing blood and a four-minute high-sticking penalty eerily reminiscent of Joel Ward's from Game 5 of the teams' 2012 second-round playoff series.
Jason Chimera soon joined Backstrom in the box, having committed a faceoff violation and providing the Rangers with an ultimately decisive two-man advantage in a 4-2 New York victory Tuesday.
“If we survived that, it gave us a chance,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It really shortened the game for them.”
Both teams did their best to downplay the importance of their first of four meetings this season, but the potential implications were unavoidable. Washington had earned at least one point in nine straight games, devoid of a regulation loss in three weeks. New York had won six straight. The two teams were flip-flopping in the Metropolitan Division standings as a result.
The Capitals, wary of using the played-the-night-before excuse after defeating the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center on Monday, were weary through two periods, mustering only 11 shots on goal.
The third period, however, began with a jolt, Washington nearly matching its 40-minute shot total in less than two minutes. Rick Nash's second goal that provided New York with a 3-0 cushion only temporarily alleviated.the pressure.
Evgeny Kuznetsov responded in 41 seconds, Alex Ovechkin cutting down New York's lead even further five minutes later when he whipped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist on the power play. The Capitals continued to swarm, shots whizzing toward a flailing Lundqvist. In all, Washington took 37 total shot attempts in the third period, 21 on goal.
“Came out harder,” Backstrom said. “We played simpler, I think, and we got pucks to the net and we created traffic in front of the net too. We were a little hungrier, I think.”
Then a series of unfortunate penalties, "stupid" as Backstrom described his own, stunted the Capitals' momentum. With the NHL's three-day Christmas break beginning Wednesday, very little was stirring in the Capitals' barren locker room. Disappointment was inevitable, but with yet another assuredly contentious game with the Pittsburgh Penguins looming this weekend, it could not last.
“It’s tough because it’s the Rangers and they’re the ones we’re battling with the most," Braden Holtby said. "We’ll learn from it and make sure we keep on this push and not let this loss get us down.”
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