WASHINGTON – In a battle of slumping conference leaders, the Wild made the Capitals look every bit like the powerhouse they are for large chunks of Tuesday’s game.
The Wild ruined a decent first period with a soft shift in the final seconds, then looked slow and listless during a second period it never recovered from before a damaging 4-2 loss at the Verizon Center.
While Eastern Conference-leading Washington stopped a four-game losing streak, the Wild lost for a fifth time in seven games, fell to 1-3 on a road trip that ends Thursday at Carolina and slipped a point behind Chicago for the top spot in the Western Conference and Central Division.
“The first two periods, we were so passive,” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who won 201 games and four division titles with the Capitals from 2007 to ’12. “I mean, we didn’t show any emotion. The third period at least we came out with a little emotion.”
The problem is after Matt Dumba scored 37 seconds into the third and Eric Staal added a power-play goal four minutes later, the Wild, which spotted Washington a 3-0 lead, couldn’t tie the score on a seventh power play of the game.
After that, it was all Caps until one final costly Wild mistake.
“They turned it up a little bit and we couldn’t match their pace in the last 10 minutes,” Boudreau said.
In a game where the Wild was probably victimized by three bad line changes (Evgeny Kuznetsov’s power-play winning goal was one), one final one by the Zach Parise-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville line, plus defensemen Jonas Brodin and Nate Prosser, led to four red jerseys skating at goalie Devan Dubnyk.
Boom, Jay Beagle scored. Dubnyk said it was a save he’d like to make, but he added it’s also the type of small mistake that burns a team when things aren’t going well.
“It seems like right now that those plays are hitting the back of the net against us,” he said. “We have to clean that up and just be sharper.”
The Wild outplayed the Capitals in the first 15 minutes, but goalie Braden Holtby was fantastic. Then, after Brodin didn’t check Nicklas Backstrom and Jared Spurgeon didn’t lay a body on T.J. Oshie, Backstrom, an all-world passer, teed up St. Cloud’s Nate Schmidt, who pinballed a 1-0 lead with 12 seconds left in the first.
“It doesn’t hurt to run into a guy,” Boudreau said. “I didn’t think for the most part that we had all guys on board competing.”
The Wild took four minor penalties in the second period, starting with Dumba 77 seconds in after he already took one 20 seconds into the game.
“We didn’t have enough fight or energy in the second,” Staal said.
Washington’s first three power plays were doused, but Mikael Granlund negated a ghastly Wild power play with a high-sticking minor. One second after the power play expired, Alex Ovechkin fanned on a shot that beat Dubnyk to end a career-long 10-game goal drought with his first even-strength goal in 19 games.
Boudreau said a forward — Pominville — didn’t defend Ovechkin.
“If he had gone to the right spot, there’s no shot,” Boudreau said.
Conversely, the Wild’s power play went 1-for-7, only scoring four seconds after a 5-on-3 expired on Staal’s 23rd goal and fourth in three games. The power play (1-for-15 on the trip) was so bad, Boudreau started three forwards not on the normal two units for the Wild’s fourth power play.
“Bad power play. Just bad,” said Nino Niederreiter, who has one goal in the past 12 games. “They outworked us. Just bad.”
Boudreau said he believes his team is fatigued.
“We’re not playing our best, but at the same time, this stretch of games on every second night is a little bit of wear and tear on them,” he said. “They’ll get through it, and we’ll be better for it come April, May and June hopefully.”
The problem is, with 14 games in the final 24 days, there’s no respite on the horizon.
“We just need to have a game where we’re just tight and really difficult to play against,” Staal said. “That’s been our staple and what’s made us successful for most of this year.”