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Capitals know they can be better

Washington in no mood to celebrate despite overtime win against Bruins

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Barry Trotz didn't have to say a word.

No doubt, the Washington Capitals coach had plenty he wanted to say to his players following a 4-3 overtime win against the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center on Wednesday. The Capitals led 3-0 in the second period and then went more than 26 minutes without a shot on goal, allowing the Bruins to charge back to tie the game.

After hanging on to reach overtime, the Capitals pulled out the victory on Nicklas Backstrom's goal 1:36 into the 3-on-3 sudden death period, but they knew they got away with another sloppy performance. So before they even got back to the locker room, "a couple of the leaders" asked Trotz if the players could talk it out among themselves.

Video: BOS@WSH: Backstrom fires OT game-winner past Rask

So Trotz left them to it. The locker room didn't open to the media until about 15 minutes later.

"We had a little talk in here, and there's some things we've got to clean up," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "I think it's more of a mentality than it is any systems or anything like that.

"Obviously, we want to play within our team game, but it's just a mentality that we've got to get back to. Once we get a step up on someone, we've got to get that mentality that we're going to finish them off."

Although the Capitals are 15-7-3, their Jekyll-and-Hyde pattern of playing well for stretches and poorly for others within the same game has been the only thing consistent about their play in those 25 games. In their 3-2 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, they flailed about in their own end for much of the second half of the second period and needed to rally from 2-1 down in the third.

Against the Bruins, the Capitals stormed out to 2-0 lead after the first period with Justin Williams scoring twice to end an eight-game drought. After Daniel Winnik scored on a 2-on-1 with Jay Beagle to up the Capitals' lead to 3-0 5:51 into the second, it appeared they might finally put together the kind of complete game that's been so elusive for them this season.

Video: BOS@WSH: Williams deflects Kuznetsov's feed past Rask

Then, they let the Bruins take over. Losing defenseman Matt Niskanen after he went face first into the boards on a charging hit from Boston center Patrice Bergeron with 3:12 remaining in the first period didn't help, but that was no excuse for how they played after Winnik's goal.

The Bruins outshot the Capitals 17-0 from after Winnik scored until Colin Miller's power-play blast 8:19 into the third period tied the score at 3-3. The Capitals' shot drought reached 26 minutes and 27 seconds before defenseman John Carlson got one on net from the right circle with 7:42 left in regulation.

"We sat back," Williams said. "A 3-0 lead isn't like it was 10 years ago. You still have to play the same way that got you the lead. We sat back and when you sit back five percent, 10 percent, teams feel that and they put the pedal down."

Video: BOS@WSH: Williams pots his second goal of the night

Although there were a couple of close calls after Miller's tying goal, including a point-blank shot from Tim Schaller that goaltender Braden Holtby stopped with 7:08 remaining, the Capitals survived to reach overtime. They were able to breathe a sigh of relief after Backstrom scored from the right circle, but they were in no mood to celebrate afterward.

"Any time a team comes back from a 3-0 lead, it's not good enough and we want to be a better team," Backstrom said. "We want to play tight. We want to be able to shut teams down. I thought they really outplayed us the second and third periods and, really, we were lucky to get two points, to be honest."

The positive for the Capitals is they've found ways to win games while they've been searching for the identity that helped them win the Presidents' Trophy last season. But they know they'd be asking for trouble if they allow this pattern to continue.

Although they are two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers for first place in the Metropolitan Division, they are also three points from being out of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I'm glad that they said, 'You know what? We've got to grab this. We've got to do it,'" Trotz said. "Because no one else goes on the ice but them. So I'm glad that when we were coming off the ice a couple of the leaders said, 'Hey, we want to have a little chat.'"

Video: BOS@WSH: Winnik finishes two-on-one rush

The conundrum the Capitals face is that no matter how well they play during the regular season, none of it will matter unless they follow up with a long run in the playoffs. That's the burden they carry from failing to get beyond the second round since they made their lone Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998.

Winning a Capitals record 56 regular-season games last season felt meaningless after they lost the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round. That disappointment also seems to have made playing consistently with urgency their biggest challenge through their first 25 games.

Trotz acknowledged "it's been a little bit tougher" to consistently put forth that effort even within the same game.

"I think the whole League has gotten better and maybe it's a little bit of our thought process, a little bit of the buy-in of game management," Trotz said. "Sometimes, our game management can improve. I know that because we've seen it this year. Last year, it got masked maybe sometimes; it was maybe Braden a little bit. Our group, everything seemed to come easier so we'd get away with it easier. This year, it's forcing us to work a little harder in some areas and that's been a little bit of a struggle sometimes."

Despite that, Backstrom believes this situation is "actually perfect for our team." Better to learn these lessons now while winning their share of games than later in the season, when a playoff berth might be at stake.

"We won today, but we're not satisfied with the way we're playing and we're not satisfied with our season so far," Backstrom said. "It's up to us in here to change this and make sure we stay focused for 60 minutes and play the way we can and play like a team. We can't look like this."

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