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A blown chance for Capitals

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Sports,Brian McNally

Three-goal lead disappears in 4-3 overtime loss to Winnipeg

Alex Ovechkin screamed, the crowd roared and the celebration began. Halfway through Friday's game at Verizon Center it appeared the Capitals were about to bury one of their competitors for the final Stanley Cup playoff spot.

Instead, a night of joy turned into one of pure frustration as a three-goal lead against the Winnipeg Jets slipped away and for the first time all season the Capitals lost after entering the third period ahead. Tim Stapleton scored the game-winner at 2 minutes, 37 seconds of overtime to hand his team the extra standings point and a 4-3 win.

"The timing is unbelievable, especially with what is on the line for us," said bewildered Washington veteran Mike Knuble.

The Caps (37-30-8, 82 points) couldn't take advantage of some beneficial out-of-town scores. Florida (36-24-14, 86 points) also lost in overtime and so remained four points ahead of Washington in the Southeast Division. Winnipeg (35-31-8, 78 points) is still in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, but has now taken four points from the Caps in a week to remain in the race.

More bad news? Buffalo (36-29-10, 82 points) pulled even in the standings with a win at the New York Rangers. Only the tiebreaker - combined regulation and overtime victories - gives Washington the No. 8 seed right now. The Caps did pull to within two points of No. 7 Ottawa (37-28-10, 84 points), which lost at Montreal, the worst team in the conference.

But that was little consolation to Washington, which was outshot 19-2 in the third period and overtime as the desperate Jets pushed for the tying goal. They finally got it with 3:45 left when rookie Spencer Machacek registered his first goal of the season. What seemed inevitable for much of the final 20 minutes finally happened. And a team that was 22-0-0 with the lead after two periods suddenly wasn't unbeaten in those situations anymore.

"It's tough," Caps forward Brooks Laich said. "A commanding lead, a 3-0 lead, and then a couple mistakes? We've got to play with a little more composure than that and protect that lead and win that hockey game. It's still a valuable point."

The loss overshadowed a game where Ovechkin scored twice in the second period to hit 35 on the season. Jason Chimera had opened the scoring at 16:06 of the first period with a pretty breakaway goal. But the momentum from Ovechkin's second goal - scored with a delayed penalty called on Winnipeg and six Washington players on the ice - was erased when Ben Maxwell tallied 73 seconds later. Bryan Little made it a game just 71 seconds after that.

"We were just kind of panicking, throwing pucks everywhere," Chimera said. "We knew they were going to come at us, too. Their season was on the line for them and you knew they were going to come. We had better than that, that's for sure. It's a disappointing end to which was a good period-and-a-half of hockey."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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