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It was another one of those games again, the games that are driving Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau slowly crazy. On the road, the Caps came out against a wounded Atlanta Thrashers squad and dominated through about 35 minutes.
Unfortunately, they once again took their foot off the gas and watched as their opponent scratched its way back into a game they had no business being in.
Time ran out before Atlanta could complete their comeback, though it was not for lack of effort. At least, not lack of effort by Atlanta.
It's tough to be so negative, as the 4-3 road win marks Washignton's sixth straight, and they sit atop their division and near the top of the conference. But against tougher foes, this now-common recipe isn't going to cut it.
Boudreau told the assembled media following the game, in no uncertain terms, what he thought of his team's performance in the second half of the game.
"I thought with about seven minutes to go in the second period, we thought this was going to be easy," Boudreau said. "And then we stopped skating and stopped playing. But I knew once [Atlanta] got one goal, just like last time, they would be flying. It's not like a faucet. You can't turn it on and off when you want."
"We need to be able to finish teams off when we have the chance," he said. "We need that killer instinct and we haven't had that killer instinct. We let teams right back in the game."
The bad taste left from an almost-comeback spoiled what should have been a game worth celebrating. Alex Ovechkin scored twice in the first period, and Brendan Morrison added a power-play marker four minutes into the second period.
Almost immediately following, you could see the adrenaline leave the bodies of the Capitals, signaling Atlanta to put pressure on goalie Semyon Varlamov (38 saves on 41 shots), who was outstanding in place of Jose Theodore, given the night off in preparation for the game Friday night against the New York Islanders.
"I wasn't happy for Varly," Boudreau said. "He plays an outstanding game and ends up with three goals on him. Nothing he could do. He kept us in the game in the third period. It's ridiculous how we just let up and let the other teams back into the game. It's very frustrating."
Atlanta (4-4-1) out-shot Washington 33-19 in the final two frames, despite missing leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, out several weeks with a broken foot. It was the second consecutive game the Caps surrendered 20 shots in the third period, and over 40 for the game.
Atlanta got three third-period goals, two by Zach Bogosian, the last coming with less than one second on the game clock. As it turned out, Mike Knuble's empty net goal at 19:07 turned out to be the game-winner.
That's a margin that is much too close, especially on a night that started with such dominance.
Washington hosts the Islanders (2-4-5) at 7:00 p.m. at Verizon Center tonight. The Isles beat the New York Rangers Wednesday night 3-1, but lost their three previous, including a home 3-2 loss to the Caps on Oct. 24.