Photo credit: Rob Carr
If there was one moment that epitomized Tuesday’s game, it came in the waning moments of the second period. With the Capitals on the power play with chance to narrow the Sabres lead to one heading into the final intermission, Keith Aucoin chipped the puck along the boards to Alex Ovechkin, who was playing the point at the blueline. Ovi fumbled the slow moving puck, got out muscled by Jason Pominville and then stumbled to the ice. Pominville finished the sequence by deflating any hope there was on the Capitals bench when his shot hit the back of the net. Ovechkin smashed his stick against the goal post in frustration.
In sharp contrast to Sunday, chants of “Ovi!” came not from the home fans, but some in the large and vocal Sabres contingent. The game was over, though Buffalo wasn’t done scoring. It ended with a 5-1 Sabres victory and a mostly empty Verizon Center.
“We dig ourselves a hole there and we get some life back in the building at 3-1 and the fourth one really hurt us, so did the fifth one,” Brooks Laich said after the game.
Ovechkin offered a simple explanation.
“I don’t think we play bad we just made mistakes in own zone,” he said. “When they score shorthanded, I should play my skate not my stick but, you know, it happens.”
This was a match-up Dale Hunter compared to a game seven in the playoffs. Which is not an untrue statement if you recall the Caps’ 6-2 defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Washington to end their 2009 season. Verizon Center had the same stunned feel as the third period ticked away Tuesday night. But after the game, Hunter and the rest of the team attempted to play it down and focus on their five remaining contests. That’s obviously valid. After all, they’re not going to get those proverbial four points back by sulking.
“It actually becomes very simple,” said Laich. “Life right now becomes very simple. You focus on your games and what you can control and you can’t look any further than that. And if you put your best effort in, I believe in this group. I believe we’re going to get in. These next five games, they’re going to tell the story of our hockey games.”
Added Karl Alzner: “We’re going to have to be a desperate hockey team, every single second of every game.”
It wasn’t just who they played. It wasn’t just how they played. It was the brilliantly awful way they showed up to the biggest game of their season. At 9:29 p.m. it came to a merciful end. The remaining fans were silent and the Buffalo Sabres laughed and high five’d as they walked down the tunnel to the visitor’s locker room. The Washington Capitals are now in ninth place.