The rout was on in the second period. The Washington Capitals were up by four goals, cruising to their eighth straight win. It felt like an absolute given, until suddenly it wasn’t.
The Anaheim Ducks methodically scored goal after goal and came back from a four-goal deficit to beat the Capitals 6-5 Sunday at Capital One Arena, ending Washington’s seven-game winning streak and sending the high-flying team crashing back to earth.
The Capitals chased net-minder John Gibson with three goals in the first period, yet their team defense collapsed in the latter half of the game as Anaheim grinded out goals. Washington fell to 15-8-3.
With about five minutes left, Pontus Aberg scored the Ducks’ game-winner. Holtby dived out of the crease to chase an errant shot by Ryan Getzlaf, but Aberg reached the puck first and knocked it behind him.
Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist, Tom Wilson kept his point streak going and fourth-liners Chandler Stephenson, Nic Dowd and Dmitrij Jaskin also had two points apiece.
But none of that was on players’ minds in the dressing room. Several Capitals admitted that the team got too comfortable sitting on the four-goal lead.
“It’s all about us, you know?” Alex Ovechkin said. “We thought it’s done, but we can’t stop playing.”
“We had a couple letdowns, the building got a little quiet and the game got away from us,” Dowd said.
Coach Todd Reirden called the loss “a good lesson and a hard lesson.”
“We lost a little bit of focus, and our ability to have had success over the streak we just lost tonight was (by) playing a certain way,” Reirden said. “We stopped playing that way and they’re able to capitalize. They’re a good team, the league’s too good and if we give them chances they’re gonna convert.”
Fresh off his third career hat trick, Nicklas Backstrom picked up where he left off Friday and scored 41 seconds into the game on a two-on-one breakaway with Alex Ovechkin. The center popped in his 10th goal of the season, showing why Reirden has kept the center on the top line with Ovechkin despite Kuznetsov returning from injury.
The fourth line also got in on the action early. Stephenson shot from a wide angle off the right circle, and the puck deflected off his defender and squirted through Gibson’s five-hole.
Getzlaf got on the board for Anaheim. But after the Capitals‘ third goal — a John Carlson laser re-directed by Wilson — Gibson was yanked, ending what was billed as a goalie duel between him and Braden Holtby.
Washington kept control throughout the opening minutes of the second. Kuznetsov dangled past Gibson’s replacement, Ryan Miller, and Dowd crashed the net and kicked another puck in.
But the Ducks scored twice in the two minutes that followed to bring it to 5-3, spelling out how the rest of the game would go.
“Should have shut them down there with a 5-1 lead. They shouldn’t be able to come back,” Backstrom said.
Dmitry Orlov was called for boarding twice midway through the third period, leading to power-play goals by Aberg and Hampus Lindholm and an improbably tied game.
The Capitals‘ penalty kill had recently righted itself, facing 20 straight penalties without a goal before the third-period meltdown.
After that, Aberg’s second goal of the day was the deciding one.
Holtby said nobody in the Capitals‘ room was “pointing fingers” Sunday.
“It’s just one that our whole group struggled finding that energy after that and that’s one of those things you just learn from,” Holtby said. “It’s hard to keep that consistent play up every game in this league, and tonight’s one of those games that just humbles myself, humbles our group. You have to make sure we keep our foot on the gas, keep pushing forward.”
Holtby surpassed 10,000 career saves in the first period, the only goalie in Washington history besides Olie Kolzig to do so. Backstrom (219 goals) moved into sole possession of fourth place among Capitals goal-scorers all-time.