When the Eastern Conference playoff race is decided on the final day of the regular season, the team that made the fewest critical mistakes down the stretch will be in.
The others will be out.
On Tuesday night at Verizon Center, the Capitals and Islanders were locked in a tie game late in the third period.
Caps forward Brooks Laich grabbed a loose puck off the defensive zone boards and banked a back pass off the end boards to Mike Green.
The bouncing puck hopped over Green’s stick and when he momentarily lost sight of it, Islanders forward Matt Moulson fed John Tavares, who blasted a shot inside the right post for a 3-2 victory, ending the Caps win streak at three and dropping them four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
Everyone in the building gasped when Green coughed up the puck, but Laich blamed himself for the goal.
“I apologized to him after,” Laich said. “I put Mike in a tough spot. That play’s more on me. … You win as a team and you lose as a team but I can certainly make a better play to help put Mike there.”
Green did not speak to reporters after the game.
Capitals coach Adam Oates agreed with Laich’s assessment, calling it a “tired play” that led to a “freebie.”
“Brooksie was tired and he just wanted to bank it to him,” Oates said. “It was obviously bouncing, a play I’m sure those two guys would like to have back. Tough play for Greenie. He tried to make a play, he probably should have batted it in the corner.”
With the loss the Caps once again failed to get to the .500 mark for the first time since they were 0-0-0 and lost ground in the Eastern Conference standings, falling from 10th place to 11th, one-point behind the 10th-place Hurricanes, two behind the ninth-place Islanders and four behind the eighth-place Rangers.
As for the Caps’ hopes for a Southeast Division title, the gap between them and the Jets is now seven points with 15 games to play.
“It’s tight,” Braden Holtby said. “We knew this year was going to be like that -- without any out-of-conference games there would be a lot of teams in the race.
“Every game is a big one right now. We can’t let this one get to us. We have to move forward and keep pushing.”
The Caps got off to a strong start, but miscues by defensemen John Carlson and Steve Oleksy led to wide-open goals by Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey.
The Caps climbed back into the game with even-strength goals by Mike Ribeiro and Carlson in the second period and when they killed off a Matt Hendricks interference penalty midway through the third they were in prime position to win the game with their own power play.
But the Islanders did a masterful job of clearing the zone and the Caps never mounted much of an attack while Kyle Okposo served his minor for holding Nicklas Backstrom.
The Caps finished 0-for-3 on the man-advantage, the first time in six games they’ve failed to record a power-play goal.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Matt Hendricks said. “To win four in a row going into this three-day break would have been nice.”
Instead, the Caps will have three days to chew on a game they’d like to have back.
“Any game that you lose is tough,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We need to regroup. Maybe it will be good for us. We haven't had a stretch like this to get a few good practices in and get settled back to what we know how to do.”