Even after Alex Ovechkin bailed the Washington Capitals out of trouble to win their fourth game in a row, all he wanted to talk about was how it almost slipped away.
The Capitals blew a three-goal lead in the third period Thursday night before beating the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 in overtime. Ovechkin had two goals, including the game-winner, and assisted on Nicklas Backstrom's first of the season, but the blown lead was the biggest takeaway for a team that should again be a Stanley Cup contender.
"We just can't stop playing," said Ovechkin, tied for second in the NHL with six goals. "I think we stopped playing. We (were) too casual, and it almost cost us the game."
Goals by Backstrom, Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, and an 18-5 second-period shot advantage had Washington on cruise control. Braden Holtby made 11 of his 24 saves in the first period, and his opportunistic teammates took advantage of turnovers in front and rebounds allowed by Winnipeg starter Michael Hutchinson, who made 28 stops.
Then the third period began. Holtby misjudged a poke-check attempt that allowed Tobias Enstrom to score short-handed into an empty net, and defensive miscues led to goals by Adam Lowry and Marko Dano.
Washington blew a 2-0 third-period lead at Winnipeg on Tuesday but won in regulation when Jay Beagle scored in the final minute. Ovechkin's power-play goal 3:21 into overtime Thursday allowed the Capitals to be satisfied with another victory, but the lapse before that kept them from being too happy about it.
"I thought they were actually outworking us there in the third period," Backstrom said. "A little sloppy from our side, but at the same time we're really lucky we got away with two points there."
The Jets overcame a three-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime for the third time in 11 games this season. It's a major improvement for a young team that struggled in those situations last year.
"We haven't quit once this year," captain Blake Wheeler said. "Everyone had a hand in that in the third period. You can be proud of doing those things."
Coach Paul Maurice was displeased with the too many men on the ice penalty called against his team in overtime, which led to Ovechkin's goal.
"I can't blame the referees on it because the linesman called it, which was important that he involved himself in the game at that point," Maurice said. "I don't think it was too many men on the ice. I don't even think it was that close."
The game was too close for comfort for the Capitals, who bent but didn't shatter after allowing three goals in a 9-minute span. Had Jets rookie Kyle Connor scored instead of clanking his shot off the post with 1:26 left in regulation, it would have been a different story.
Refusing to blame the timing of coming off a four-game Western Canadian road trip for the inconsistent play from period to period, Washington players owned up to not matching the Jets' pushback in the third.
But coughing up a three-goal lead late in a game in early November beats doing the same in April or May.
"It's early," Oshie said. "We didn't play the way we wanted to, but glad we found a way to get a win. We'll take this as a learning experience and move on and hopefully we can be better from it."