Leafs Rally in Third to Upend Capitals

After Saturday’s loss to Atlanta, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau cancelled the team’s day off to practice good habits, like creating traffic and following up on rebounds.

Now, it appears he’ll have to cancel the next off day to lecture the team about playing a full 60 minutes.

A seemingly insurmountable 4-1 Capitals lead after two periods vanished by the end of regulation as the Maple Leafs used two goals in the final three minutes to force overtime and eventually beat the Capitals 5-4 in the shootout.

“We quit playing in our own zone,” Boudreau told the media after the game.

It’s simple: the Leafs wanted it more. The Caps spent 40 minutes looking like a Stanley Cup contender and the next 20 minutes looking like a team that’s fat and happy knowing it’s virtually assured a playoff spot. The Leafs, meanwhile, looked hungry for three periods and as a result were able to pull off a huge road win against a far more talented team.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, this is becoming a recurring theme. No, they hadn’t blown a lead this big in such a dramatic fashion until tonight. But they have already let several big leads slip away only to have to scramble to pull out a win, conveniently allowing everyone gloss over the lack of a full 60-minute effort.

It raises some disturbing questions for Caps fans. Which version of the team will we see when the stakes are high? Will we see the team that steam rolled its way to a seven game win streak? Or will we see the team that’s now 4-4-2 in it’s last 10 games, including ugly 5-0 losses to Atlanta and New Jersey and now this?

Pittsburgh won its tenth in a row tonight to leapfrog the Capitals in the standings, and maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. Maybe they could stand to trail a team or two in the standings. Something, anything to shake the sense of complacency that more and more often appears to pervade the locker room culture in Washington.

Other Observations

- It’s too bad the Capitals had to spoil a wonderful performance by Matthieu Perrault. The Hershey callup recorded the first two-goal game of his career and had the shiftiest stick on the ice. He and Alex Semin appeared to toy with the Toronto defense. If those two could only play like that every night.

- It took Mike Knuble until January to heat up last season. After his goal tonight the rugged veteran has two goals in his last three games. Hardly a trend, but it’s not unreasonable to think that a 38-year old might take a little longer to get into the swing of things at this stage of his career. Ideally for Caps fans this is the start of a new portion of his season because he had the worst start of his post-lockout career from a shot accuracy standpoint.

- Speaking of heating up, Alex Ovechkin’s snapshot to beat Jonas Gustavsson high glove side was pure filth. With goals in consecutive games, maybe his wrist is feeling OK after all. About that whole defense thing – anyone else see Ovechkin floating in no-man’s land on the fourth Toronto goal?

- The Capitals rolled out the following D pairings to begin the night: Jeff Schultz-Mike Green, Scott Hannan-Tom Poti, John Carlson-Karl Alzner. It’s hardly a stretch to call it the best defensive unit the Capitals have featured since they began rocking the red at Verizon Center, and arguably the most stout on paper in a decade. It was nice while it lasted for all of 40 minutes. Schultz left the game with a fractured thumb and will now miss 4-6 weeks. John Erskine’s spot in this lineup might as well be etched in stone.

- Kudos to goalie Michal Neuvirth for holding the line during the first five minutes of the second in which the Leafs badly outworked and out-chanced the home team. He played well for stretches but sadly has now posted a sub .900 save percentage in four of his last 10 outings. Not the direction in which he needs to be trending.

Championship teams are supposed to have the mentality that the trap door shuts automatically when entering the third with a three-goal lead. Regardless  of the opponent, they should hold themselves to the same standard of remaining disciplined and keeping the puck deep in the other team’s zone, not on making fancy passes to get someone a feel-good hat trick.

Hopefully the players in that locker room are angry after Monday’s loss. Hopefully they don’t forget about it 40 minutes into the next game.

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