WASHINGTON – The Capitals were not quite ready to play on Friday against the Minnesota Wild and maybe you can't blame them.
Coming off one of the season's most intense games, a wild 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, one of three games this month against the Presidents' Trophy winners, Washington didn't have it for a Wild team it had beaten eight times in a row. That 2-1 defeat offered a lesson they need to carry forward for the final two games of this homestand at Capital One Arena.
The Capitals (43-24-8, 94 points) couldn't match the desperation of a Minnesota team that entered the day one point out of a playoff position in the Western Conference. The Wild had to win. Washington would have liked a win. The difference showed on the ice.
"It was obviously a different game that way. I think you could tell they got more desperate as the game went on," goalie Braden Holtby said. "They don't give up much, they're pretty stingy defensively. After coming off some emotional games lately I think we didn't ramp it up enough for this one, for their situation, how they were playing. It was a close game. It was one that we'd like to play a bit better, but we still did a lot of good things."
They just didn't do enough of them consistently. The Philadelphia Flyers (80 points) are on the fringe of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference and down to their final gasps of breath. Expect a similar effort from them on Sunday afternoon when they visit Capital One Arena. For the Capitals, who lead the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders by three points (93), they need a win on this four-game homestand.
Another loss will suddenly put the Metropolitan Division back in play for multiple teams. The Islanders also have an extra game remaining and know they play in Washington on the final day of the regular season April 6.
"We can use this and learn from it," defenseman Nick Jensen said. "These teams are desperate for points and we still need to be, too."
The Capitals weren't bad; they just didn't match Minnesota's level. They were 0-for-3 on the power play, and on two of those attempts, didn't generate any shots on goal. A couple of mistakes – a Brooks Orpik misplay late in the first period and a Matt Niskanen turnover in the neutral zone – led directly to goals by Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin. Holtby stopped 25 of 27 shots.
But it never felt like enough. Brett Connolly tipped home a shot from Jensen in the second period. But there weren't enough puck battles won, there weren't enough pucks sent behind the Minnesota defensemen. It was an average game and that was never going to be enough tonight. The Wild moved into sole possession of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Capitals stayed where they were in the standings.
"That was a very intense game [against Tampa Bay], three games in four days for us, but that's a game that they deserved to win more than us," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. "Our execution level and desperation wasn't as high as theirs was and they were able to convert on a couple more of their chances than we did."
Added captain Alex Ovechkin: "Everybody needs points right now, and it doesn't matter who you play against, it's not going to be an easy one, especially a team who fights for a playoff spot. It's playoff hockey. I don't think we were ready tonight, and the blame's on us."
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