Capitals falter in second period, let Wild skate off with 4-2 win


Peter Laviolette could not fault his team’s effort nor point to a lack of chances for its 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night. The Washington Capitals’ coach was pleased with the time his team spent in the offensive zone and its numerous scoring opportunities that, if they were just an inch to either side, could have changed the outcome.

But Washington never found that tying goal, and an empty-netter in the final minute sealed the Capitals’ loss at Capital One Arena.

“There’s a lot that we did good for 60 minutes,” Laviolette said. “It’s one of those games where I can’t fault the process and I can’t fault the effort. … I thought our guys showed up and played hard and did the right things. Defensively, I thought we were pretty good, then the goals are the goals.”

Playing its second game in as many nights after erasing a three-goal deficit to claim a 4-3 overtime win Monday at the New York Islanders, Washington could not solve Wild goaltender Filip Gustavsson (34 saves) in the final period despite putting 14 shots on net. The Capitals’ best opportunity came with just under four minutes left, but Gustavsson denied a shot by Marcus Johansson from the goal line when he kicked the puck away with the heel of his right skate.

“I don’t know how it didn’t go in, but that’s how it goes sometimes, I guess,” Johansson said.

Washington (24-17-6) had failed to capitalize on two power-play chances early in the third; that unit is 0 for 13 over the past six games. The Capitals, who suffered their fourth regulation loss in their past six games, begin a three-game trip Thursday at Arizona before visiting Vegas on Saturday and defending champion Colorado next Tuesday.

Washington had the lead in the second period, but the Wild (25-14-4) scored three times — on nearly identical shots — to take command.

“They took my eyes away on those goals, but I thought we again played well enough to win,” goaltender Charlie Lindgren said. “So this one is kind of like the last game I played against Nashville — it obviously just hurts.”

After Dylan Strome put Washington ahead 2-1 with a top-notch, top-shelf redirection of a pass from Martin Fehervary at 5:05 of the second period, Minnesota defenseman Jonas Brodin tied it at 13:12 with a shot from the right side that beat the heavily screened Lindgren (18 saves). The goal came on the Wild’s eighth shot on net.

The Wild, which hadn’t played since Saturday, grabbed a 3-2 lead when defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored his second goal of the period with 1:45 left — on a shot from the right point that Lindgren again was unable to see because of the traffic in front of him. Spurgeon had scored a similar goal 50 seconds into the period to tie it at 1 on the Wild’s fourth shot on goal.

Minnesota’s Joel Eriksson Ek hit the empty net to end it at 19:06 of the third.

Fehervary had opened the scoring with 1:03 left in the first period by converting a give-and-go with captain Alex Ovechkin. It was his fourth goal of the season and just the second time in the past eight games that Washington scored first.

Before all of that, Laviolette shuffled his lineup again, bringing center Lars Eller and winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel back into the fray. Eller was a healthy scratch Monday; he replaced Nic Dowd, who was injured in the first period against the Islanders and did not return. Aube-Kubel had been a healthy scratch for the previous four games. Winger Anthony Mantha was pushed out of the lineup, a healthy scratch for the third time in the past five games.

Laviolette called scratching Mantha a “coach’s decision.”

He also switched up his line combinations: Center Evgeny Kuznetsov was dropped to the fourth line. Aube-Kubel was the first-line right wing, and Conor Sheary dropped to the third with Eller and T.J. Oshie.

Laviolette said he was trying to even out the lines against a physical opponent and did not view Kuznetsov’s slide to the fourth line as a demotion.

“It was just four lines,” he said. “We wanted to make sure playing last night that we came back and we had speed on every line, we had physicality.”

Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ loss:

Regardless of Laviolette’s intentions, Kuznetsov’s move to the fourth line was a surprise. The Russian center was held off the scoresheet in 18 minutes 15 seconds of ice time — the second most among Washington’s forwards behind Ovechkin’s 21:41 — and has just one assist in the past six games.

Kuznetsov is second on the team with 37 points and leads the way with 31 assists, but his most recent goal came Dec. 29 against Ottawa.

Dowd suffered a lower-body injury Monday. Laviolette said Tuesday that he would be out “for a bit.” He has 10 goals and nine assists in 44 games and plays a pivotal role as a shutdown center.

Forward Aliaksei Protas was in the press box Tuesday and is slated to travel with Washington on its three-game trip. The Capitals have not recalled Protas from the American Hockey League, but he is expected to be on the roster for Thursday’s game in Arizona.

Protas has played in 41 NHL games this season, notching three goals and seven assists. He was sent to Hershey early this month to make room for the returns of Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson. With the Bears, he had three assists in five games.

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