Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity. The Washington Capitals are learning that at their own expense.
They are learning that in split-second fashion; against the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday, Ilya Bryzgalov slid across the crease just in the nick of time to get a skate on what should have been an Alex Ovechkin goal to give the Caps a 2-0 lead in a game they ultimately lost 2-1 in a shootout. Against the Winnipeg Jets Friday, Mike Knuble could not convert a wide-open opportunity in front of the net that would have given Washington a 4-2 lead after allowing two unanswered goals. Instead, the Jets overcame a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime.
They are learning that in the standings. After handing the Jets their first win of the season when trailing after 40 minutes (and earning their first loss when leading after 40), the Caps are now hanging onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by a tiebreaker. For the third time this season and second time within the last week, Washington failed to render the fatal blow to Winnipeg’s postseason aspirations.
Yet, perhaps the most valuable lesson that the Caps can learn comes from the Jets themselves. Trailing 3-0 less than 10 minutes into the second period, the Jets did not falter. Jim Slater propositioned Brooks Laich at center ice six seconds after Ben Maxwell scored to cut into Washington’s lead. About one minute later, Bryan Little’s goal completely shifted the momentum in Winnipeg’s favor.
“We didn’t get down,” Jets head coach Claude Noel said. “We continued to play. We just plugged away. We needed a spark. The spark that really came on, for me, was the Slater fight. That’s really what got us going. It really showed the rest of the players, the rest of the team that we need to battle here, we need to keep going. I thought that was a real statement. If you look after that fight that he had, I think it was clear that our team got energized from that just from a team standpoint, that somebody stepped up. That was probably the turning point in the game.”
“Our guys didn’t look demoralized,” Noel continued. “They were good in the way they responded. We needed that one. There’s a lot of hockey to be played. We didn’t really waver.”
With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Caps must study and administer Noel’s lesson. For every problem, there is an opportunity, but a team that misses that opportunity cannot be saved.