"That was the worst game of the season; we came up small when we needed to come up big and win a game on the road," Ted Leonsis wrote Tuesday in his blog (www.tedstake.com). "Another wasted opportunity to get two points and move up in the standings. An unacceptable performance."
To a man, his players shared in that sentiment.
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"This time of year you've got to be playing good hockey, to come out and just stink right out of the gate -- play sloppy, not characteristic of how we're gonna play -- it's very disappointing for our group," Mike Knuble said.
"We were bad at the beginning of the game, bad in the middle of the game, bad at the end of the game," Jeff Halpern said. "That's really all there is. We were just bad all night."
The Capitals came into the contest one point behind eighth-place Toronto and two points behind Southeast-leading Florida. With a chance to move into a playoff spot for the first time since Feb. 10, the Capitals laid an egg so massive it could've fed the entire team afterward.
It took just 3:41 for the Hurricanes to get ahead 1-0 on a power-play goal by Justin Faulk, and after Anthony Stewart made it a 2-0 game 88 seconds later, that was the end of the night for goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
Coach Dale Hunter pulled Vokoun after that goal in an attempt to give his team a jolt, but it didn't have the desired effect. The Hurricanes made it 3-0 against Michal Neuvirth with 30 seconds left in the period.
"I don't think he got pulled because of his play; I think he got pulled because we needed to get a spark," Brouwer said. "Our effort after that, again, back to it, embarrassing."
"Just the game itself should've led to a spark," Halpern said. "But it wasn't Tomas, the whole team was just bad."
During the second period, arguably the Caps' worst performance of the season looked like it was turning into a nightmare. Alex Ovechkin left the bench with about six minutes to play and did not return until after the intermission. The team said Ovechkin was dealing with a skate problem, but he only had five shifts in the third period, one of which was two seconds long, and didn't take a shift in the final 5:45 of regulation.
Ovechkin was seen limping in the locker room after the game, but he re-affirmed the notion that it was not an injury.
"Just a skate," Ovechkin said.
Making the loss particularly tough to swallow against the Eastern Conference's last-place team is it came against backup goaltender Justin Peters, who was replacing an injured Cam Ward. The Capitals never really tested Peters, who made 17 saves for his first NHL shutout.
The question now becomes, where do the Capitals go from here?
They have 23 games remaining, same as the Leafs and one fewer than the Panthers. The Capitals face the Leafs twice more and the Panthers once and have a showdown in Ottawa with the seventh-place Senators on Thursday night, another team they are chasing in the East.
But with Ottawa seven points ahead of 10th-place Washington, perhaps the Capitals need to focus on either themselves or teams not so far off in the distance. The Capitals are 3-6-1 in February, with two of the wins coming against the Panthers, otherwise thoughts of winning the division would seem far-fetched right now.
"We keep getting breaks and other teams are helping us. Florida loses yesterday and Toronto loses the night before in Vancouver," Knuble said after the loss to the Hurricanes. "You watch the standings, and it's like nobody wants it. And that's what's frustrating. Because it's right there for us, and it's in our control, and somebody's got to take it."
The Capitals are one of the League's worst road teams, but they can finish their current four-game swing at 2-2 with a win against the Senators. A win in Ottawa would do a lot to erase the angst of the blowout loss to Carolina, and it could get them into the top eight in the ultra-tight East playoff chase.
"It's very, very disappointing for our group. That being said, you can't feel sorry," Knuble said. "It was another game, and we're still in the thick of things and have a chance to have a .500 trip with a win in Ottawa. I think you want to, it's hard to say move on. Forget move on, but the next task is a big game and hopefully a big win in Ottawa."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo