The Washington Capitals returned to the Verizon Center on Monday night determined to control their playoff destiny by earning points at home.
But the San Jose Sharks simply would not oblige.
The Pacific Division-leading Sharks rebounded from a 3-0 shutout in St. Louis on Sunday night with a 5-3 defeat of Washington in the U.S. capital, their 16th win in the last 17 matchups with the Caps.
"There isn't a magic wand or any secret formula to beating them," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
Maybe not, but special teams certainly help. A night after lax special teams cost San Jose against St. Louis in the form of three 5-on-3 opportunities and an 0-for-4 mark on the man advantage, the Sharks returned to form with three power-play conversions on six chances. They also killed each of Washington's four chances.
San Jose (31-17-6) is an even 1-1 on its current season-long, nine-game road trip and the team moved three points ahead of Los Angeles in the Pacific race – 68 to 65 – with three games in hand.
Joe Pavelski enjoyed a four-point night, scoring the first two then assisting on the third and fourth. Patrick Marleau scored two of his own, and Brent Burns added a goal for San Jose. Joe Thornton added three assists and Thomas Greiss made 39 saves in relief of Antti Niemi.
With starter Tomas Vokoun ill and backup Michal Neuvirth having played Sunday, coach Dale Hunter called up Braden Holtby from AHL Hershey for the game. Holtby, who hadn't played since March 26, 2011, made 30 saves in the loss.
"Neuvy played the night before there, so we figured he hasn't played much of back-to-backs, so Holtby was ready to go," Hunter explained, "So we tried him."
Washington (28-23-5) failed to grab a critical two points at home. With three straight losses, the Caps are five points behind Florida in the Southeast Division race -- and the Panthers have a game in hand. With the crowded conference standings, there is a possibility that only one Southeast team will be among the top eight.
Dmitry Orlov, Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Schultz – all defensemen – scored for the Caps. In a microcosm of Washington's offensive frustration, captain Alex Ovechkin recorded six shots, but failed to score for the second straight game.
Pavelski opened the scoring on a deflection at 12:12, but the idea was all defenseman Dan Boyle's. Boyle unleashed an ambitious effort from just San Jose's side of the red line, and Pavelski applied some knuckle-spin on the puck's way into the Washington zone. Holtby put his glove on the puck, but it spun out and over the line.
The shot was San Jose's first of the game.
"You see it bounce, and you hope when you're that far away that something stupid happens," Pavelski said. "And it did."
Holtby's take: "Hit me in a weird spot in my glove and popped over."
Pavelski made it 2-0 at 3:26 of the second. With Brooks Laich off for cross-checking, Logan Couture probed from the left circle and fired a shot that was well-saved by Holtby. Unfortunately, Pavelski was waiting just outside of the crease to lift the rebound over the goalie's shoulder for his 22nd of the year.
At 16:11, it was Pavelski's turn to have his shot deflected for a goal, again on a Sharks' man advantage. His high blast from beyond the left circle was tipped in the air by Marleau in the low slot. Holtby again looked lost, as the puck hit his left shoulder, trickled down his back and landed in the net.
One tick before the second intermission, Orlov brought the Capitals within two with his second career goal. The rookie defenseman ripped it from the high slot, and it trickled over the line to send the Capitals into the break with a small measure of momentum.
"You never want to give one up at that point. You've got the crowd that's in it now. You've got a coach that was probably upset going in, and then within one second, he changes his mind and he's now selling, 'Hey, we can do this comeback' material," McLellan said. "But we challenged our guys. We said it's up to them. They can choose to be on their heels or they can get on their toes and get after them. I'm glad they chose the second."
That momentum would be short lived, however, as another long shot eluded Holtby just minutes into the final period. Burns deflected a Thornton blast for his eighth of the season at 4:36. At 7:03, Marleau got his second after some persistent work on the back post during the Sharks' fourth power play.
Hamrlik put a backhander from the left circle past Greiss for his second of the season at 10:22, a goal that got Washington's motor running – if only temporarily.
Sustained pressure saw the Caps score one more, an all-too-easy point shot from Schultz that skidded in between Greiss and the near post. To be fair, Ovechkin had Greiss fully screened, with his back to Schultz and the puck, on the play.
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.