Following an indefensible 5-4 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday in which the Washington Capitals blew a two-goal third-period lead, Capitals forward Dustin Penner, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, offered a frank assessment of what had transpired.
“We got a little content with the lead, maybe that’s indicative of a young team," he said. “When you have a 3-1 lead going into the third you shouldn’t have to score a shorthanded goal [from forward Evgeny Kuznetsov] to tie it up.”
The problem, however, is that the Capitals are not a young team.
They are a veteran-laden team that at this point of the season should simply know better.
Holding a 3-1 lead entering the third period at home after a wildly successful road trip through California, Washington should have been 20 minutes from procuring a playoff spot for the first time in over two months. Instead, the Capitals, who now find themselves in a four-team pileup at 80 points, squandered a point that may prove pivotal in determining their postseason fate in three weeks.
“We had control of that game,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We had two points in our hands and the fact that we don’t have it now is frustrating. I hope it doesn’t come down to that.”
Perhaps the largest indictment of this Capitals team is that the blown lead seemed almost inevitable.
Washington blew its 13th two-goal lead of the season and sixth in the third period alone. As a result, Los Angeles forward Marian Gaborik's game-tying goal midway through the third period was met with a collective sigh of resignation from the Verizon Center crowd.
"We took our foot off for a second," Alzner admitted. "[Tonight] we shut our brains off for a second and good teams do that to you."
Conversely, "good teams" do not shut their brains off in the midst of a frantic playoff push. The Capitals may do just enough in their final nine games of the season to back into a seventh straight postseason appearance, but the one point they frittered away Tuesday -- not to mention the potential loss of center Nicklas Backstrom to an upper-body injury -- may very well prevent them from doing so.
“You never know when it comes down to it if it’s in or out by one point,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “You never know. Hopefully it doesn’t.”
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