Since Barry Trotz took over the reins behind the Caps bench at the outset of the 2014-15 season, the Caps have been good at locking down late leads. But on Tuesday night in Winnipeg, the Caps let loose of a 3-1 lead in the back half of the third period, as three unanswered Jets goals in a span of 11 minutes and 5 seconds left Washington on the wrong end of a 4-3 overtime decision.
In his third game back in the lineup after missing 16 games with an upper body injury, Jets center Mark Scheifele scored his second goal of the game to tie it up at 3-3 while the Capitals were on a power play with 14.4 seconds left, and he made a slick pass to the slot to set up Winnipeg defenseman Tyler Myers for the game-winner at 2:35 of overtime.
“It’s a huge team win to come from behind like that late, and then get the two points in overtime,” says Myers. “It was a huge character win for us.”
Winnipeg got on the board first when Scheifele scored his first goal since his return from injured reserve at 14:41 of the first. Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien spun his way past Andre Burakovsky at the left point, buying some time and space with which to make a play. Byfuglien’s move created a two-on-one down low, and when Brooks Orpik got a stick on the pass, the puck bounced toward Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who stopped the redirect, only to have his momentum carry him away from the crease. That left an easy tap-in for Scheifele.
Washington scored once in each period, gradually building up that 3-1 cushion.
A strong shift from Washington’s top forward trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson enabled the Caps tie the game at 1-1 just 22.7 seconds ahead of the first intermission. Wilson pulled the puck out of a pile and tried to take it to the net, but the Jets had it well covered, so he left it for Ovechkin just above the right circle. Ovechkin put a shot on net from the right half wall, and Backstrom found the rebound and tucked it home before any of three Jets in the general vicinity could get to it.
The Caps got another rebound goal in the second on a rush play. Lars Eller took a feed from Alex Chiasson and skated the puck into Winnipeg ice, then cut to the middle of the ice. Eller let go a shot from the high slot, and Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck made a right pad stop, but kicked the rebound right to Burakovsky, who made no mistake, firing a shot past Hellebuyck on the short side to put the Caps on top 2-1 at 11:22.
Washington nursed that one-goal lead into the third, and doubled that advantage on a John Carlson goal at 7:01. T.J. Oshie picked Myers’ pocket behind the Winnipeg net, then fed Brett Connolly along the left half wall. Connolly bumped it to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the left corner, and the Caps center made a splendid play, feeding Carlson, who was driving the net at the far post. Carlson netted his 10
th of the season to make it a 3-1 game.
Fourteen seconds after scoring, Carlson was boxed for slashing. The Caps killed that penalty off, but the Jets cut the Washington lead in half a couple of minutes later.
Winnipeg’s Brian Little skated the puck out of his end and into Washington ice, working a little give-and-go with Jack Roslovic on the right side. Getting the puck back from Roslovic, Little snapped a shot past Holtby at 11:30 of the third to make it a 3-2 game.
The building came to life at that point, and the Jets did as well. Washington kept the Jets mostly to the outside, and with Hellebuyck off for an extra attacker, the Caps seemed to be on the verge of locking the game down as Jay Beagle skated out of his zone on a two-on-one with Oshie on his right.
As Beagle skated through neutral ice, Byfuglien slashed him. The official’s arm went up, signaling an impending penalty call on the Winnipeg defender, who promptly issued a harder, two-handed tomahawk chop to Beagle’s midsection just as he was sending a pass to Oshie. The pass was just an inch or so too long for Oshie to reach, and Byfuglien was sent to the box, but only for a single minor penalty.
“I thought we should have been on the power play the whole time in overtime,” says Trotz. “I thought the penalty was warranted on the first slash, for two minutes. The referee’s arm went up. And the second slash on Beagle – that was not a hockey play. That was not a hockey play. There was no intention of getting the puck or trying to get the puck; he was already by him. At that point, we probably should have put it in the empty net.”
That’s what Beagle was trying to do, get the puck to Oshie for an easy empty-netter. Did Byfuglien’s slash hamper Beagle’s bid to get the puck to Oshie?
“Sure, yeah,” says Trotz. “Absolutely, absolutely. He came back [to the bench] and he was in a lot of pain. You just have to look at it. It was not a hockey play.”
With Hellebuyck back in the net and the Caps on a power play, all Washington had to do was rag 77 seconds off the clock to skate out of town with a 3-2 win. They couldn’t do it.
The Caps lost a pair of offensive zone draws, and Winnipeg was able to exit the zone and get Hellebuyck to the bench for an extra attacker once again, evening the skaters at five a side. Holtby made a good save on Mathieu Perreault with about 30 seconds left, and the Caps got possession in the corner. But Backstrom’s backhand pass to space, and Perreault claimed it. Backstrom blocked Blake Wheeler’s point shot, but Scheifele collected the rebound and threaded it through Holtby’s pads with 14.4 seconds remaining, tying the game at 3-3.
Byfuglien still had 43 seconds to serve to start the overtime, and Hellebuyck gloved down Backstrom’s shot on the four-on-three power play, which turned out to be Washington’s only shot on goal in the extra session.
The overtime continued at four-on-four until the Caps went offside at 2:23, at which time the two sides continued at three-on-three with a draw at the Winnipeg line. Scheifele bested Backstrom on the draw, and a dozen seconds later it was over.
Scheifele carried into the Caps’ zone with speed, and just as he was about to reach the goal line on the left side, he sent a perfect backhand feed to the trailing Myers, who ripped a shot that beat Holtby high to the glove side.
“It’s a hard lesson to learn,” says Trotz. “I thought in this building – this is a pretty hostile building – for 54 minutes we played a really good road game.
“They scored the second goal, and the crowd got into it, and we got on our heels a little bit. And then we got through that and we were on the power play. And you know if you can just hang onto it, you know that they’re going to try to get their goalie out if they can get possession, and you’ve just got to be really hard at five-on-five. We blocked a shot and then lost a little bit of a puck race; couldn’t find the puck and they get it tied up.
“Now the building is going crazy and then you’re in three-on-three. It’s a tough way to lose points. We should have sealed the deal.”