Capitals blow third-period lead in a big way, get blown out by Carolina

For the first time this season, the Washington Capitals led through two periods before losing in regulation. And Friday’s modest milestone was not about half-measures — the Capitals gave up a stunning five goals over the final 20 minutes in a 6-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Capitals were outplayed throughout, even when they had the lead. There seemed a sense of inevitability to the contest, as if was only a matter of time the faster, more forceful Hurricanes would flip the script. That moment came early in the third period when Seth Jarvis tied the game, jamming a puck through goalie Darcy Kuemper (28 saves) until it finally crossed the line. Things spiraled from there.

“I didn’t think it was close the entire game,” Capitals Coach Spencer Carbery said. “Even though we had the 2-0 lead, it never, never felt comfortable. It never felt like we had any momentum, other than on the scoreboard. We knew we were in a really difficult spot and couldn’t flip it.”

Center Nic Dowd opened the scoring at 7:06 of the first period with a patient finish over Carolina goalie Pyotr Kochetkov’s shoulder. Winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel pulled the puck out of the left corner to find Dowd alone at the net front, and Dowd cut wide before turning back and firing a wrister for his first goal since Dec. 10. Just under 10 minutes later, center Dylan Strome broke his seven-game goalless drought with a tap-in finish on the power play, capitalizing on a feed from captain Alex Ovechkin.

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But against the Hurricanes, a team known for its ability to cycle the puck and for its commitment to funneling nearly every single puck at the net, even a two-goal lead after the first period wasn’t going to be secure. The Capitals were on their heels nearly the entire time — they were outshot 34-17 and allowed 77 shot attempts to Carolina while taking just 37 of their own.

Washington’s energy in the opening minutes of the second period was palpable, but it wilted when Carolina got on the board just over five minutes in.

In what was almost an exact copy of the setup to Dowd’s goal, Andrei Svechnikov picked up the puck in the corner and spotted Brent Burns flying unmarked down the slot. Burns’s close-range one-timer easily beat Kuemper to halve the Capitals’ lead. But even as the Hurricanes continued to push, making it challenging for Washington to exit its defensive zone or keep the puck long enough to generate offense, the Capitals still hung on, barely, through two periods.

“They play a certain style of hockey, and they are good at it,” Strome said. “They chip pucks deep and don’t let us get through the neutral zone. We couldn’t really get past it tonight. I thought we did a better job last time we played them in Carolina of getting some more chances. Tonight, they just kind of smothered us, it felt like.”

Winger Max Pacioretty, who spent last season with the Hurricanes but played just five games after suffering two Achilles’ tendon tears in the span of five months, hit the crossbar on a rush with Strome late in the frame — coming inches from giving Washington a bit more breathing room.

And Pacioretty’s clang of the iron loomed large early in the third period, after Jarvis forced the puck through Kuemper. Kuemper thought he had the puck covered, but as Jarvis stood and watched, it trickled through and across the goal line under Kuemper’s pads. The play started with former Capital Dmitry Orlov bringing the puck into the offensive zone on a solo rush before taking a hit from defenseman Nick Jensen behind the net. Vasily Ponomarev picked up the puck and tapped it to Jarvis, who was waiting at the near post to jam it home.

“They get kind of a chintzy goal, and then the momentum switches,” Dowd said. “As a group, I think what’s important is that we’re an old enough team to understand, like, hockey’s a funny game like that. You’re going to win games when you shouldn’t. You’re going to lose games when you shouldn’t. It’s our responsibility as a team to just feel that momentum and create our own to change things, which I guess we didn’t do a good enough job of tonight.”

Washington’s final meltdown didn’t begin immediately after Jarvis scored; in fact, in the minutes after the tying goal, the Capitals produced some of their best scoring chances of the game.

But when winger Beck Malenstyn was sent to the penalty box for slashing with 7:47 left to play, the Hurricanes needed just 28 seconds to take the lead on a blistering one-timer from Svechnikov. A one-goal deficit may not have been insurmountable, but center Evgeny Kuznetsov took a slashing penalty as Svechnikov scored, and Carolina doubled its lead on the ensuing power play with Burns’s second goal of the game.

The two power-play tallies spelled disaster for Washington, but Carbery had seen the trouble coming.

“To me, it’s irrelevant, because we had no business being in that situation,” Carbery said. “The game is so lopsided, and, yeah, they capitalize, but it’s inevitable in those spots when you’re playing on your heels like that.”

Up 4-2 with just over six minutes left, the Hurricanes continued to keep their foot on the gas. Orlov scored a shorthanded empty-netter at 18:11 — the Capitals had pulled Kuemper on the power play for an extra attacker — and Ponomarev added a final dagger at 19:01, converting on a two-on-one rush with Jesperi Kotkaniemi that left defenseman Joel Edmundson smashing his stick on the crossbar in anger.

Carbery said before the game that facing Carolina (22-13-4) would be an important test of how the Capitals (18-13-6) stack up, a chance to prove that they can hang with the top teams in the Metropolitan division. And after the shellacking, Carbery’s frustration made clear that he knows his team has a long way to go.

“We’re going to get to work on getting better, collectively and individually,” Carbery said. “We’ve got to get to work. We’ve got a lot of growing to do.”

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