NEWARK, N.J. -- Here were the Washington Capitals, with fading Stanley Cup Playoff hopes, backing up in a tie game Friday at Prudential Center, the clock dipping under five minutes to play in the third period.
Mike Green was defending as the New Jersey Devils were charging. He saw the play developing right in front of him. He might see it in his nightmares now.
"He just got the puck in the middle, I came over, he pulled it and shot," Green said outside the visitors dressing room following Washington's 2-1 loss, his voice trailing off as he spoke quietly.
Green was hoping a pass by Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky, a nearly 2-foot beauty of a saucer, wouldn't make it to forward Ryan Carter, but it did. Green thought Carter might struggle to settle it down, but he didn't. Instead of moving far enough over to put his body in Carter's shooting lane, Green reached out his stick with his left hand, waving it, hoping Carter's shot would hit the shaft and the puck would go astray.
It went in the net, underneath goalie Jaroslav Halak's left pad with 4:54 remaining.
"You can't blame one guy, you can't blame one play," Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin said. "You can see we have a good game, but one break cost us two points, or a point."
Washington played a relatively strong game Friday and had some chances to tie it after Carter scored, but New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider shut the door.
The Capitals are winless in their past five games (0-3-2) and have fallen precipitously since a 2-0-1 California road trip. Washington remained four points out of a wild-card spot after the Columbus Blue Jackets lost Friday, and the Capitals have three teams to leap and five games to do it. They play Saturday against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
"It's tough," Green said. "Yeah, we played a solid game, but we're in a position now where we've gotta win 'em all, and we know that. So we just gotta move on now. We came out the way we wanted to, we played a hard game, there's not much out there, so ..."
Washington did come out like a desperate team against New Jersey, an element of its game that had been missing despite their grave playoff situation.
The Capitals took a 1-0 lead 10:12 into the first period on Ovechkin's 49th goal of the season, his first at even-strength in 17 games. Jason Chimera was close to giving Washington a 2-0 lead after Ovechkin sprung him for a breakaway in late in the period, but he couldn't settle the puck enough and Schneider stopped the shot he did get off.
"If that goes in, it's 2-0 and it's a whole different ball of wax," Chimera said. "That's the game. That's how close it is."
The Capitals killed off four consecutive Devils power plays, including a four-minute double-minor Joel Ward was assessed for high-sticking Zidlicky 43 seconds into the second period. Washington held the lead until Tuomo Ruutu got a piece of Eric Gelinas' wrist shot from the left point to beat Halak with 7:39 left.
The Capitals came out strong in the third period and got off four of the first five shots on goal before Dustin Penner took an interference penalty at 4:35.
Washington killed that off, the game was still tied, and things were looking up. The playoffs again appeared within reach … until Green reached and Carter scored.
"It was a good pick up by Carter," Green said. "He just got a lucky shot."
Capitals coach Adam Oates said, "[Green] just kind of maybe missed the poke check as he was lunging for it. A little bit unlucky on it."
Lucky or unlucky, it didn't matter. Schneider stopped four more shots, including a save-of-the-night candidate on Marcus Johansson at the doorstep with 2:23 remaining, and the Capitals again were left sullen in their dressing room, quietly packing their bags and getting dressed for the drive to Long Island.
Ovechkin was correct in saying this loss can't be blamed on Green, himself, Oates or anyone. The Capitals had their chances, some Grade A looks, opportunities to build on a lead their captain gave them.
Pointing fingers after the game would get the Capitals nowhere, but it looks like that may be where they're headed anyway.