Since New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov has owned the Washington Capitals during his career, his opposing number Philipp Grubauer really could have used all the help his teammates could muster as he made his first career start Saturday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum. What he got was somewhat the opposite.
Tied at 2-2 with just under 13 minutes to go, the Caps imploded down the stretch by committing a pair of four-minute penalties. The Islanders took advantage of both of them, then rubbed salt in the wound with a late shorthanded goal to skate off with a 5-2 win.
Grubauer found himself peppered to the tune of 45 shots as he gave Braden Holtby his first day off since early February. But the rookie goalie made enough saves to keep the Capitals in the game long enough for Nicklas Backstrom to knot things up with 12:51 left in regulation on his third goal of the season.
The wheels came off shortly after, when Mike Ribeiro was ordered off for four minutes for high-sticking John Tavares. New York’s scoring leader made Washington pay, converting an easy rebound chance at the 12:13 mark.
Tavares also scored the next power play goal, which was anything but conventional. Right after Jeff Schultz received his own double minor for high-sticking Andrew MacDonald, Tavares sent a puck on net that appeared to be saved by Capitals forward Troy Brouwer. Play continued for several minutes before Matt Moulson lit the lamp, but review found that the puck was actually in on the earlier sequence. Tavares was awarded his 16th goal of 2013 and several minutes of time were put back on the clock.
That only allowed things to get more miserable for the Caps. Given their own man advantage with 3:10 left in the third, they quickly gave up a shorthanded two-on-one. Frans Nielsen elected to keep the puck himself, firing home to create the game’s final 5-2 margin.
Grubauer finished his busy night with 40 saves in his first full NHL game. Joel Ward was credited with Washington’s other goal on a puck that bounced in off the skate of New York’s Travis Hamonic. The Capitals also played most of the game with only five defensemen, losing John Erskine to an upper body injury after just 1:18 of ice time.
For Nabokov, the victory ran his record to 11-1-2 lifetime against Washington. More importantly, his team got to .500 as it chases a playoff berth that has proved elusive for the last six seasons.
The Caps won’t have too much time to think about their own missed opportunity at .500, as they make a quick trip back to Verizon Center to host the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon. They’ll stay home on Tuesday for what looms as a critical game against the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes.
The game was over when…
Discipline went out the window in the third period. Yes, Ribeiro and Schultz probably had no intention of committing dangerous stick fouls, but those penalties just put too much pressure on a rookie goalie and a defense corps that was down a man. The results were disastrous, to say the least.
The unsung Capitals hero was…
The d-men get some credit for having to gut it out without Erskine, but even so, there were too many breakdowns and lapses to give it to one of them. I’ll go with Backstrom here, simply because he hasn’t had a great year shooting the puck but still managed to score a nice goal that looked big at the time