If for some reason the Washington Capitals needed assistance in manufacturing desperation in the midst of a playoff chase, then their game against the Dallas Stars provided such an opportunity.
Each team entered play Tuesday trailing the second wild-card spot in their respective conference by one point.
Yet only one team played with a heightened sense of urgency. In outclassing Washington in a 5-0 victory, Dallas displayed the kind of grit required to qualify for the postseason. The Stars simply played like they wanted it more, while the Capitals looked like a team resigned to its fate.
"There was zero urgency," said goaltender Braden Holtby, who came on in relief of Jaroslav Halak in the second period after the latter allowed three goals on 23 shots. "Playoff race like we're in, we lose 5-0. It's awful. There's no words for it."
All season, Washington has been victimized by self-inflicted errors and Tuesday was no different. Dallas took advantage of several turnovers and lackadaisical defensive play, pouncing on Washington midway through the second period with two goals in 34 seconds.
The Capitals' top-ranked power play, one of their few sources of strength, set a disturbing tone by allowing two shorthanded breakaway opportunities in the first 32 seconds of its first opportunity of the game. Stars forward Ryan Garbutt, who had one of the early chances, capped off the lopsided victory with a shorthanded goal in the third period, sending disenchanted fans to the exits.
“There wasn’t one part of the game tonight that was good enough — 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill, everything," forward Eric Fehr said. "It looked like we weren’t prepared. We talked about everything, but it looked more like a preseason game for us than a game that we needed to win to make the playoffs.”
It was only two weeks ago that the Capitals kept themselves relevant in the Eastern Conference by earning five of a possible six points during a grueling California road trip. Defenseman John Carlson called that stretch "the best hockey we have [played] in years" and it is hard to argue against such an assertion.
Since then, the Capitals have lost four straight, the most recent of which was easily their most embarrassing performance of the season.
Washington now trails the Columbus Blue Jackets by two points in the wild-card race with one fewer game left and without the benefit of a tiebreaker. The Capitals will likely have to win all six of their remaining games to give themselves even the faintest chance of appearing in their seventh straight postseason.
Frankly though, after such an indefensible performance in the biggest game of the season to date, they do not deserve to.
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