Capitals focus on bouncing back vs. Blackhawks

After having a three-game winning streak snapped in dramatic fashion on Tuesday night by the Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals open a four-game homestand on Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Capitals returned after Tuesday night’s 5-4 loss still tied at the top of the Eastern Conference with 33 points with the Panthers and Toronto, but blew an excellent chance to take over the top spot. Washington led 4-1 heading into the third period before Florida scored four consecutive goals, outshooting the Capitals 27-2 in the process.

“That was probably the worst period for us this year,” said center Lars Eller. “It shouldn’t happen when you’re up three goals. It stings right now for sure.

“This one should have been in the bag. We played two really good periods. We kind of let our guard down. We’ve got to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Sam Reinhart scored a power play goal with 14.4 seconds remaining to win it for the Panthers. It was a brutal ending to what could have been a memorable two-game road trip for the Capitals, who won at Carolina 4-2 despite blowing a 2-0 lead in the third period on Sunday, and looked to be in prime position to take over the lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy after two periods on Tuesday.

Instead, Washington left Florida without even one point.

“We stopped playing,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “That’s two games in a row we stopped playing in the third period. If you don’t punch back, the only thing you are going to do is get punched, and we got punched for 20 minutes.

“We have nobody to blame. We leave here with a loss in the column, and we’ve got to digest that for the next couple days until we get back on the ice, but we just stopped playing.”

Laviolette was asked if his team’s execution was the problem during the meltdown.

“It was work, it was work,” he said. “There’s nothing else I can say. We stopped working. They worked hard and we stopped working, and that’s how you get outshot (27-2).”

Rookie center Connor McMichael was asked what happened to cause such a dramatic turnaround for the Capitals in a game that they dominated for the first 40 minutes.

“I don’t know,” McMichael said. “I think we let our guard down a little bit. We kind of thought the game was already over. It’s just unacceptable, and we’ve got to be a lot better than that.”

Washington, which is 7-1-3 on home ice this season, opens its homestand against a Chicago team that comes in off a 2-0 home loss to San Jose on Sunday and will be starting a three-game eastern road trip.

The Blackhawks, who began the season 1-9-2 under Jeremy Colliton, have bounced back to go 6-3-0 under interim head coach Derek King but have struggled offensively, scoring just eight goals in their last five games while also going 0-for-13 on the power play over the past six games.

“I’m hoping it’s coming soon,” King replied when asked if it was matter of time before the goals start coming for his team. “Listen, you’re playing a really good hockey team (San Jose) and it’s 1-0 going into the third period, and you’re holding them. They get an empty net goal. I’ll take that every night if we play like that for three periods. I’ll take that.

“For the most part, the floodgates will open for some of these guys, and when our power play starts clicking again, then we’re going to be on top of these teams, and we’re going to come out ahead.”