Both the visiting Washington Capitals and host New Jersey Devils entered tonight's match up with their eyes set on the leapfrogging the Toronto Maple Leafs for ninth place in the Eastern Conference's playoff race. Washington would get off to a quick start but the home team would respond in the second frame, out-hustling the Capitals and converting the game tying goal halfway through. The Capitals couldn't generate enough rubber Cory Schneider's way in the third period and Ryan Carter would send two points the Devils' way with five minutes left to play. Jaroslav Halak 's 28 saves (.933 SP) were not quite enough and Washington sees their chance at the eighth playoff seed shrink under five percent.
Nine more notes on the game:
- Alex Ovechkin broke his even strength scoreless drought halfway into the first period with a low snap shot that beat Schneider to the blocker side. Ovechkin had played in 16 games since his last even strength goal - February 27th against the Florida Panthers. The Captain came out flying, attempting six first period shots and moving his feet up and down Prudential Center's ice despite his team's early two man advantage failure.
- Tom Wilson's thorough finish on Patrik Elias delayed the game for a minute, the veteran Devils winger stayed on his hands and knees for more than a minute after the neutral ice collision. He got up under his own power but did not return to the game. The young power forward's contact was excellent, staying below Elias' shoulder pads, and the game continued without incident - as it should. New Jersey forward Adam Henrique would also leave the game early, neither of the players returning to the game.
- Washington would kill their own two man disadvantage to start the middle period, a short seven second and one shot sequence, but they still had more than three minutes to go - Joel Ward serving a double minor for high sticking against Marek Zidlicky. The penalty killing unit ended the night going five for five, a welcome sight for Washington during a hectic second period.
- Tuomo Ruutu would ensure that New Jersey would capitalize on their strong play after their own failed power plays and he simultaneously screened and deflected a point shot from Eric Gelinas over Halak's glove hand. The Devils came out swinging in the second and thoroughly tilted the ice, resulting in Ruutu's goal.
- The Devils dominated possession in the second twenty minutes, the home team controlling play and minimizing mistakes (a late too many men minor penalty aside). Washington's positive start faded away in the middle frame and through parts of the third - the game was only knotted at one after forty minutes because of Halak's strong play.
- A really soft call from referees Gord Dwyer and Eric Furlatt early in the third period, Dustin Penner's (he of 6:08 TOI) hand check on Travis Zajac sending the Devils' forward down while stepping over the red line. Only thanks to another really strong penalty killing performance, again lead by Halak with a sparkling save on Andy Greene, was New Jersey scoreless.
- The Devils would find their first lead of the game and the game winner with five minutes to play in the third period, Carter rifling an Ovechkin like snap shot through Halak and bringing Prudential Center to life. Carter was given too much space over the blue line and into the slot and the young undrafted everyman made no mistake, securing the victory.
- Marcus Johansson would have Washington's best look at tying the game late but Schneider held his paint and played big to deny the Capitals' Swede from less than ten feet out with a huge left hand. Collective unbelief was seen on the bench and the good guys would watch the clock run out on yet another come back effort that fell short.
- Halak was sparkling but Washington couldn't overcome its own faults on enemy ice to maximize their chance of playing in two weeks time. Pete DeBoer's club, despite being short staffed with in-game injuries, turned the contest in their favor after the first intermission and never backed down. The regulation win puts New Jersey ahead of Washington in the playoff chase with the Capitals sliding down into tenth.
With tonight's loss dropping Washington in the standings there are no positives to be taken from tonight's game. Yes - the team responded from the Dallas game great in the first period, Ovechkin broke his career long even strength goalless drought, and the penalty killing unit played long minutes effectively - but the Capitals failed in the task at hand in Newark, NJ, which was getting two points, and couldn't even hang on for 50% of it. This season's window is rapidly closing and the players, coaching staff, and management are going to be facing a long offseason in the summer of 2014. One or more two losses like this one will set that process into motion.