WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 06: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals is knocked into the goal by Fredrik Sjostrom #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Verizon Center on December 6, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
A 4-1 lead after two periods against the offensively challenged Toronto Maple Leafs shouldn't be a problem for a veteran squad like the Capitals.
But the Leafs stormed back with three goals in the third period -- including two in a span of a minute late -- to tie it at 4 and eventually won it in a shootout.
After the game, the Caps appeared to be stunned and left wondering how their seemingly invincible lead disappeared in the third.
"I don't know what happened [in] the last 10 minutes," Alex Ovechkin said afterward.
"A 4-1 lead after two periods is pretty big," he said. "Losing a game like this is pretty bad for us."
Coach Bruce Boudreau had an idea or two on what happened, and there's no doubt he'll share his thoughts with his players in the coming days.
"We quit playing in our zone," Boudreau said. "We just wanted to play safe. You can't just allow a team to come into our zone all night long. When they were in our zone, our positioning, by both defensemen and forwards, was really bad."
The players realized they let one slip away against a team they should have handled easily. But then again, as the saying goes, that's why you play the game.
"It was more on us than it was on them," winger Matt Hendricks said. "It's frustrating to say the least. We've been working hard. Paying the price with extra hours at the rink. That's unacceptable."
So how did the Leafs pull it off? They took advantage of some sloppy defensive-zone coverage by the Caps in the third.
The Leafs' Mikhail Grabovski scored four minutes into the third on a one-timer from the high slot on a nice feed from Tomas Kaberle. Boudreau said Ovechkin was out of position on the play, as the Toronto winger took the shot from where Ovie should have been in the defensive zone.
That 4-2 lead was still a safe bet for the Caps, but Washington's defensive coverage -- and the game -- completely fell apart in the final minutes.
Kaberle once again set the table, this time taking a pass at the point and ripping a shot that seemed to be going wide of the net. But Tim Brent's stick appeared like magic and redirected the puck back on net and past a helpless Michal Neuvirth to make it 4-3 with 2:23 remaining.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson then pulled the goalie, and the extra skater caused confusion for the Caps' defensemen.
After Toronto got the puck in deep, both Washington blueliners decided to tie up Leafs in the corner and behind the net. That allowed winger Clarke MacArthur to wander alone to the left of Neuvirth for a good 10 seconds -- plenty of time for Grabovski to spot him from the left wing boards. Grabovski grabbed the puck and fired a pass to the crease, and MacArthur redirected it past Neuvirth to tie the game.
MacArthur raised his arms and dropped to both knees in celebration. Caps fans did the same thing, only they wondered why the hockey gods were against them on this night.
Grabovski eventually won the game in the shootout with a nifty spinning backhand in the crease, sending the sellout crowd -- and the Capitals -- home unhappy.
The final result spoiled what was an excellent performance by Mathieu Perreault, who scored twice after being called up from the AHL. The Caps are in need of a second-line center, and Perreault did a fine job with Alex Semin and Brooks Laich on his wings.
"He brought great energy tonight, like we thought," Boudreau said. "He made plays, like we thought. If some of the other forwards had played with as much energy as him, we wouldn't have been in the situation we were in."
Notes: Want more bad news Caps' fans? Boudreau said after the game that defenseman Jeff Schultz will be out four to six weeks with a fractured thumb. Good news? Hmmm... the Caps welcome the Florida Panthers to the Phone Booth on Thursday. That's something, right?