WASHINGTON (AP) — Something happened on the way to the Washington Capitals’ sixth victory in seven games. They hope it’s a lesson and not a troubling pattern that could hurt them down the road.
The Capitals blew a three-goal lead to the New Jersey Devils with a horrendous third period Tuesday night before Jakub Vrana’s second of the game in overtime gave them a 5-4 win. They’ll gladly accept the two points to keep pace with the East Division-leading New York Islanders but don’t want to sweat out too many more like this.
“That is not acceptable, what we showed there in the third period,” said Vrana, who scored in the second period at 4-on-4 and now has 10 goals this season. “We did not play even close to what we can play. That was disappointing, but at the end of the day we won the game and we take that.”
The Devils, who lost eight of their previous 10 games, tilted the ice and outshot the Capitals 16-5 in the third. Miles Wood, Yegor Sharangovich and Damon Severson scored three goals in under seven minutes to tie it and force overtime.
“I loved their fight,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “One heck of a point.”
Washington isn’t jockeying for positioning with New Jersey, so squandering the chance to wrap it up in regulation won’t be a problem in the standings. But veteran players want this memory to linger in the middle of this shortened, 56-game season and mean something positive later on.
“We can’t think things are going to be easy,” said T.J. Oshie, who scored in the first to end the team’s 0-for-12 power-play drought. “The New Jersey Devils aren’t going to come into D.C. and take a night off. That’s just not the way it’s going to happen.”
The Capitals showed they have the firepower to overcome a rough 20 minutes. They built a lead on goals by Oshie, Vrana, Dmitry Orlov and Daniel Sprong, and got another perfect shot by Vrana to end it.
But in the midst of New Jersey’s comeback was another worrying sign — that the Capitals didn’t respond when coach Peter Laviolette called a timeout up 4-3 to stem the tide. Severson tied it not long after, and goaltender Vitek Vanecek cracked under pressure after stopping 15 of 16 shots through two.
“We just stopped playing,” Laviolette said. “It was just a lot of errors, to be honest with you, from mishandling pucks to not executing with pucks to penalties to line changes. There’s just a bunch of things. Some bad defense tied in there, as well. We had our foot on the gas for two periods, and then we took it off.”
The comeback is something the Devils aim to build off in another rebuilding season. They got a second-period goal from Janne Kuokkanen and 25 saves from Scott Wedgewood two nights after he stopped all 40 he faced in a shutout of Boston.
“Hopefully, it just gives us confidence,” said forward Travis Zajac, who had three assists. “We have to play the right way to be successful. You can’t do it by yourself. We have to support each other, support the puck, execute and I think we did that in the third because we were hard on pucks and we were able to come back.”
Only in the lineup because Tom Wilson is serving a seven-game suspension, Sprong scored his fourth goal of the season in his 14th time in a Capitals uniform. He did it on a 2-on-1 rush with captain Alex Ovechkin and never thought about passing the puck to the guy with the seventh-most goals in NHL history.
“When you go down on a 2-on-1 with the greatest goal-scorer, I think everyone thinks that you’re going to give it to him, and even the goalie thought so,” Sprong said. “Two on one, the D played ‘O’ and their goalie decided to take away his side, too, so I just had to hit the middle of the net and that’s what happened.”
Devils: Visit the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
Capitals: Return to Philadelphia for games at the Flyers on Thursday and Saturday.
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