Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) stands near defensemen Mike Green, left, and Karl Alzner after the go-ahead goal by New York Islanders center John Tavares, behind, in the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 26.
Already tired after completing an 80-second shift about three minutes earlier, Brooks Laich had been on the ice for 42 seconds when he decided to send a pass to a waiting Mike Green.
Matt Moulson was bearing down on Laich along the left wing wall, so Laich elected to push the puck behind the net for Green to retrieve instead of attempting a risky cross-ice feed.
The puck pinballed off of the end boards and the back of the Capitals' net before finally reaching Green, but the defenseman could never gain full control. Green lost the puck in his skates and Moulson found it first -- before finding the ever-dangerous John Tavares, who was lurking unguarded in the slot, for the game-winning goal in the Islanders' 3-2 victory.
“It was my mistake,” Laich said. “I got caught out [on the ice] a little fatigued. I went back and I wanted to send it back behind the net. I didn’t think I could get Mike direct. I didn’t one to turn one over in the middle in front of our net, so I sent it behind the net. Bad angle, bad decision by myself. I put Mike in trouble and it resulted in the winning goal.”
While Laich took full responsibility and even apologized to Green for the turnover, he was not completely at fault.
He is certainly not innocent, but the onus is on Green to make a routine play to protect the puck by either corralling it in the first place and/or ringing it around the boards and out of harm's way. Green was not made available for comment after the game.
Karl Alzner was also involved in the play and was seemingly caught in between being a safety valve for Green and defending the slot, but that was more of a product of the situation. Braden Holtby lost track of Tavares because he was searching for the puck.
Coach Adam Oates, however, placed the blame on both primary parties involved.
“Not a good interchange between Brooksie and Greenie," Oates said. "Brooksie was tired, so he just wanted to bank it to him, and it bounced -- it was obviously bouncing. A play that I’m sure those two guys would like back. A tough play for Greenie. He bounced it right at his feet, and he was just trying to make a play. He probably should have had it in the corner.”
Either way, one mistake cost the Capitals a game that they certainly had and needed, having erased a 2-0 first-period deficit and subsequently seizing all momentum in their home game in nine days and their last for eight. For the second time in less than a month, New York halted Washington's three-game winning streak.
With the win, the Islanders jumped over the Capitals and Hurricanes and into ninth place in the log-jammed Eastern Conference. Washington entered play Tuesday just two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot and five out of the Southeat Division lead, but ended the day four out and seven out, respectively.
With only 15 regular-season games left, every point is valuable and the Capitals surely don't want to point to a lost puck as the reason for their lost opportunity.
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