The Capitals did do something in the first period they did not do in their previous three games – score a first period goal. Marcus Johansson got the Caps going when he finished a play started by Nicklas Backstrom. With the Caps on a power play, Justin Williams jumped on to the ice for T.J. Oshie and filled in down the middle in the offensive zone. Backstrom spied him for a one timer that goalie Corey Crawford got a glove on, but the puck was not secured. It popped into the air to Crawford’s left where Johansson, camped out at the post, swatted the puck out of mid-air and past Crawford to put the Caps up, 1-0, 6:13 into the game.
Chicago tied the game just 31 seconds later. Williams tried to chip the puck out of the Caps’ end, but it made it only as far as the blue line where Trevor van Riemsdyk took control of it. He slid a pass through to Patrick Kane behind the Caps defense, and Kane deked goalie Braden Holtby to the ice before sliding the puck behind him to make it a 1-1 game at the 6:44 mark.
The Blackhawks scored the only goal of the second period, courtesy of Jonathan Toews on a Chicago power play. Chicago did a fine job of breaking down the Capitals’ defense in deep, working the puck deftly between the faceoff circles until it ended up on Toews’s stick low in the left wing faceoff circle. He snapped a shot into the back of the net before Holtby could get across, and the Blackhawks led, 2-1, with just 1:45 left in the period.
Chicago added to their lead mid-way through the third period on a controversial play. With the puck sliding deep into the Caps’ end, Nate Schmidt had a step on Richard Panik. When the puck reached the end wall, an icing call seemed in orders, but the linesman kept his arm down, and play continued. The Caps let up just enough, expecting the icing call, to let Dennis Rasmussen get to the front of the net. Panik found him with a pass, and it was only for Rasmussen to snap the puck into the net past Holtby’s glove to make it 3-1, 12:47 into the period.
Washington got one back late in the period on a power play on a broken play. Chicago won a faceoff to Crawford’s left, but a clearing attempt up the wall by Duncan Keith was blocked by Backstrom. The puck caromed toward the net where Evgeny Kuznetsov was battling Brent Seabrook. It was Seabrook getting his stick on the puck, redirecting it to the end wall, but it had enough force to rebound hard off the end wall. It was a bit of good fortune for Kuznetsov who gained control of the puck and from below the goal line backhanded the puck off Crawford and in to make it 3-2 at the 16:39 mark.
The Caps put pressure on the Blackhawks immediately after the Kuznetsov goal, but Chicago clamped down an prevented the Caps from recording so much as a shot attempt in the last two minutes, holding on for the 3-2 win.
-- The Caps scored the first goal, breaking a string of seven straight games in which they allowed the first goal. It was just the second time this season that the Caps lost a game when scoring the game’s first goal (28-2-0). They still have the league’s best winning percentage in such games (.933).
-- It was just the eighth loss in regulation this season for the Caps when trailing after two periods, still the fewest such losses in the league (6-8-2).
-- Five power play opportunities was the most the Caps had in a loss since they had eight chances in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on February 2nd (they did not score a goal).
-- This was the first game in which the Caps scored more than one power play goal since before the All-Star Game break when they went 2-for-2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-3 win. They had gone 14 straight games without scoring more than one power play goal in a game.
-- This was the first game in which the Caps did not score a goal at 5-on-5 since December 10th in a 4-1 loss to Florida. It broke a 33-game streak of scoring at least one goal at 5-on-5.
-- Mike Richards was the only Capital to win more than half of his faceoffs (6-for-10). The rest of the club went 14-for-41 (34.1 percent).
-- Richards was the only Capital not to be credited with at least one hit. The Caps had a 47-27 edge in that statistic.
-- This was the sixth time in his last nine appearances that Braden Holtby allowed three or more goals. In those nine appearances he is 6-2-0 (on no-decision), 3.09, .893.
-- Marcus Johansson led the team in shot attempts (seven). His four shots on goal was the most he had in a game since he had four in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Columbus on January 2nd.
-- The Caps fought the Blackhawks to a draw in 5-on-5 possession numbers overall, 39-39 in shot attempts. It should not be considered an achievement. The Caps held a 24-11 edge in the first period, a 17-6 edge in shots overall, and a 14-6 edge in scoring chances, yet were tied, 1-1, after 20 minutes (numbers from war-on-ice.com). It was a case of letting the home team off the hook.
In the end…
There were things in this game a Caps fan could dwell on – the inability to score at 5-on-5, the Chicago top line having a more productive game than the Caps’ top line, the curious slump in which Braden Holtby finds himself. But in a game as close as this, it came down to a play in which the Caps, as a team, assumed something that was not there – an icing call. And, they got burned for it. That is how close the margins are in the postseason. Sure, it looked as if it was the wrong call, but if this was a legitimate preview of a potential Stanley Cup matchup, it is a lesson the Caps had better remember.