WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Tuesday morning, Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said that night’s game was “officially the biggest game of the year” for his team.
The problem is, the Caps took a really bad night to take a game off falling to the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 and possibly seeing their annual playoff failures go up in flames before they even start.
“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 loss. “I understand it a little bit but it doesn’t mean we’ve quit.”
Tuesday marked another game where the Caps had early opportunities, but couldn’t convert. Compounding matters was red-hot Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (14-1-3 in his last 18 games), who stopped everything in sight and had 44 saves on the night.
GALLERY: CAPS VS SABRES
Instead of taking advantage of chances, the Caps watched the Sabres light the lamp twice in each of the first two periods, including a shorthanded goal in the second, before adding insult to injury in the third with their final score.
“To go down like that, I think we left Braden out to dry a little bit there,” Caps forward Mike Knuble said. “The other team playing with a ton of momentum – they were feeling good offensively, feeling good defensively. We’ve got to do a better job of holding the fort there at the beginning. We just never recovered really. We got back to 3-1, but I think the short-handed goal was No. 4, that was a big blow, too.”
Rookie Braden Holtby, who started just his fifth game of the season between the pipes, managed to stop just 15 of the first 18 shots before being pulled early in the second period.
“I felt good, felt my head was in it,” the young goalie said after the game. “Just a little erratic with my movement at times and something to work on.”
Head Coach Dale Hunter said he didn’t pull Holtby because of his play.
“They had chances, I wasn’t blaming the kid,” Hunter said. “I was just (changing) momentum, seemed to give us some jump.”
It gave them a little jump when about 2 and 1/2 minutes later Alexander Semin buried a wrister and cut the lead to two.
However, any momentum gained by that was lost for good when Jason Pominville took advantage of a Alex Ovechkin mishandle at the point on the power play to start a 2-on-1 breakaway and ended up beating Michal Neuvirth for a short-handed, game-clinching goal.
“I thought we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves,” Alzner said on the shorthanded goal. “The crowd was feeling pretty good, I think. And that was a real killer.”
Neuvirth stopped 11 of 13 shots in relief for Holtby.
The sentiment in the locker room was that the team has to put this one behind them fast if they have any hopes of making the playoffs, especially since they’re heading to Boston to play the Bruins on Thursday.
“Get right back in the saddle. The season isn’t over,” Laich said. “There’s five hockey games left. We have more regulation wins than what buffalo does so we have to pick up two more points than them the rest of the way. It’s a tough loss but it’s not a devastating one. We reduce ourselves to fighting every day, you don’t look any further than that. You live to fight one more day and you make the most of your chances. All we can do is win our hockey games. That’s all we can do.”
The Caps are two points behind the Buffalo Sabres now for the last and final playoff spot in the East and five points behind the Florida Panthers for tops in the Southeast Division. The Panthers also have a game in hand.
“It can really irritate you tonight, but tomorrow you’ve got to come fresh to the rink and ready to play and do our best to win as many as we can out of the next five,” Knuble said. “Now we’re going to start needing a little bit of help and that’s kind of the first time we’ve been in this position where we’re going to start needing some help. You’ve got to set a target of trying yo get four out of these five and finish extremely strong. And then even if you do that and hold up that end of the bargain, you’ve got to wait for a little bit of help somewhere else.”
Listen here to what Dale Hunter, Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble & Braden Holtby had to say after the loss.
2nd 5:07 Semin (19), Chimera, Perreault
Dale Hunter Postgame Audio
Alex Ovechkin Postgame Audio
Brooks Laich Postgame Audio
Mike Knuble Postgame Audio
Braden Holtby Postgame Audio