Reflections from a reporter born in 1987

Caps do the impossible, lose the unlosable

December 7, 2010 - 01:45 AM
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MacArthur (on knees) celebrates his game-tying goal in the third period Monday night. (Photo: Associated Press)

"To lose one late lead to the Torontonians, Mr. Boudreau, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness."

-From my forthcoming work, The Importance of Being Earnest Cup Contenders, written with apologies to Oscar Wilde.

The second Alexander Semin's shootout attempt, the last chance the Capitals had of extending the game-deciding skills competition against the Toronto Maple Leafs, was smothered by Jonas Gustavsson, the man sitting to my immediate right in the Verizon Center press box turned to me and said, "The Caps just lost an unlosable game."

He couldn't be argued with. Even if I was interested in doing so, It wasn't possible to conceive a coherent rebuttal after the skull-imploding events of the third period. The Capitals were up 4-1 after 40 minutes and appeared to be cruising. Even Mikhail Grabovski's goal to make it 4-2 early in the third period didn't cause undue concern. It was just a bit of bad luck, a well-placed shot that happened to catch Michal Neuvirth going from right to left and found its way between his legs.

Unfortunate? Yes. Troubling? Not at all. Surely, the Capitals had learned their lessons from the last time these two teams played, when they barely beat a Toronto team that has peaked at mediocrity, and whose season is plummeting toward putridity.

But they hadn't. Or, if they had, they'd forgotten them. First, John Carlson couldn't dislodge Tim Brent from the top of the crease as he deflected a Tomas Kaberle shot past Neuvirth to make it 4-3 Washington with 2:23 left. 59 seconds later, absolutely no one was able to pick up Clarke MacArthur, who swept possibly the easiest goal he's scored since squirt hockey into the open net. Shadow play, all of it.

In his postgame press conference, Bruce Boudreau wore the part-frustrated, part-exasperated, part-bemused expression of a man who's told his child not to touch the hot pan on the stove, only to have them scald themselves anyway. "We quit playing in our zone," Boudreau said. "We just wanted to play safe ... It's frustrating anytime you give up a 4-1 lead in the third period, you're gonna be angry. It doesn't happen and it's not supposed to happen."

"When we do what [Boudreau] tells us to do, we succeed. When we don't, that's what happened in the third," said defenseman Tom Poti, who recorded three assists on the night. "We set out a game plan. We did it really well in the first two periods. The third period -- shame on us."

Indeed. Monday night's game wasn't about the dropped point in the standings (though that could easily come back to haunt the Caps this coming spring), nor was it about the fact that the meltdown overshadowed a fine performance from Mathieu Perreault (the first two-goal game of his career). It was about the fact that this team, which is capable of doing truly great things, also showed themselves capable of doing some truly terrible things. Monday night, that capability moved from the theoretical to the actual, from abstraction to realization. If they can do this against Toronto, one wonders, what on earth are they truly capable of?.

My Three Stars

Clarke MacArthur-Scored Toronto's first and final goal in regulation play, and didn't hesitate to get physical and mix it up with the Caps in between..

Mathieu Perreault- The first two-goal game of his NHL career earns him some recognition.

Mikhail Grabovski-Scored Toronto's second goal and got the primary assist on MacArthur's late equalizer. Executed a sweet spin-o-rama move to get the only goal in the shootout, too.

Injury Updates

Jeff Schultz is out for 4-6 weeks with a fractured thumb, and Tyler Sloan was placed on injured reserve retroactive to December 4 yesterday. The full story on those two is here.

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