The Capitals’ locker room was the picture of sweaty satisfaction following Friday night’s heart-pounding 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
And with good reason. The Capitals ended a two-game losing streak with the win and climbed within one point of the Philadelphia Flyers for the final wild card spot in the airtight Eastern Conference standings.
But down the hallway, in the coaches’ office, Adam Oates was not in a particularly giddy mood. The Caps had blown a two-goal lead for the 12th time this season and for the fifth time in the third period.
The Caps own one of the NHL’s best records when leading after two periods – they are now 19-0-3 – but Oates wasn’t patting his players on their backs for their narrow escape against the Canucks, saying his team was “too sloppy.”.
“We had the 3-1 lead, but we didn’t deserve it,” Oates said. “The first 10 minutes of the second [period] we gave the puck away seven times and left [goaltender Jaroslav Halak] hanging. We didn’t execute. They got some momentum and we were fighting an uphill battle.”
Credit Halak for stopping the mudslide. After Mike Green gave the Capitals a 4-3 lead midway through the third period, the 28-year-old Slovak was tested often down the stretch, flashing his left pad to stop a breakaway by Nicklas Jensen with just under 7 minutes remaining and thwarting Henrik Sedin from the goal line with under 5 minutes to play.
“Outstanding,” Green said.
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Green could not use the same adjective for the way the Caps played most of a game in which they were outshot 41-21 and 17-3 in the third period.
“The momentum shifted and they had it there for a bit,” Green said. “We’ve got to make sure we eliminate that right away when we notice it. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
There were bright spots in the win, perhaps none brighter than Evgeny Kuznetsov’s three-assist performance.
Playing in his third NHL game after the Caps signed him out of the KHL, Kuznetsov, 21, picked up a secondary assist on Alex Ovechkin’s league-leading 45th goal and 19th on the power play. He also showed strong puck possession on the Caps’ game-winner by Green, getting the puck to Nicklas Backstrom, who set up Green in the high slot.
But it was Kuznetsov’s fake slap shot pass to Tom Wilson that brought the sellout crowd out of their seats.
“If you watch the replay, I was a little bit surprised,” Wilson said. “It was a pretty quick pass, but no complaints. You’ve got to expect that in this league with the caliber of player he was.
“Tonight it seemed like he was in all the right places. Our first shift of the game we kept the puck in their zone for a minute and a half because he’s in all the right spots.”
After the game Oates acknowledged that left wing Brooks Laich was laboring with groin pain in the third period. Laich took just two shifts in the final 15:32 of the game, with one of those shifts coming on a penalty kill.
“I asked him to give us everything he had and he did,” Oates said. “I really, really appreciate what he did for us, but I didn’t want to play him after that.”