LANDOVER -- The story of the Washington Capitals' season to date was captured not only in their actions last night but in the words of winger Todd Krygier.
"Opportunities," said Krygier. "Again we had them and just didn't take advantage."
It's getting to sound like a broken record.
VTC Besides Krygier, Kevin Hatcher and Kelly Miller failed on one-on-one chances against goalie Craig Billington as the New Jersey Devils completed a weekend sweep of Washington with a 4-3 victory in overtime.
The Devils, playing the part of sleep walkers in the first period, woke up in the second period, then converted the second of two excellent scoring opportunities in overtime to extend their third-place advantage in the Patrick Division to five points over the Caps.
The winning score, coming after 2 minutes, 9 seconds of the extra session, was caused not only by a deft feed by Valeri Zelepukin to Bobby Holik, lurking at the left post of the Washington goal, but by two Caps defenders losing their sticks on the deciding play.
In a scrum behind the Caps' goal line, Calle Johansson lost his stick momentarily as Zelepukin gained control of the puck along the boards off to goalie Don Beaupre's left. As he moved across the ice, Mike Ridley dove to get control of the puck, dropping his stick as Zelepukin sped away.
It was a bad error by Ridley, leaving his feet in the defensive zone and Zelepukin made the Caps pay for it. He skated to the high slot and, with Caps goalie Don Beaupre now forced to divide his attention between the two Devils, Zelepukin flipped the puck in to the waiting Holik.
Meanwhile, Johansson, now in possession of all his equipment, arrived an instant too late to disrupt Holik's game-winner.
Before the overtime, a brilliant third period by both teams had transformed a ragtag contest into a 3-3 tie.
The Capitals, smarting from a 3-0 loss in New Jersey the night before, moved out to a 2-0 lead after the first period and the score was only a small measure of their superiority.
They were the recipients of a gift short-handed goal when Billington took a swipe with his glove at a 60-foot slap shot by Caps defenseman Sylvan Cote and missed badly. Johansson, like Cote, knocked in his fifth goal, this one also from the blue line.
"The game was going our way. We were doing the things we wanted," said coach Terry Murray. "Then, just like that, it's 2-2."
It took the Devils little more than two minutes to tie it after the first intermission, Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer ramming shots by Beaupre.
The Caps regained their composure late in the period, Jeff Greenlaw converting a nifty feed from hard-working rookie Keith Jones for his first goal of the season. But a turnover in their defensive zone allowed the Devils to tie it at 18:05, Alexander Semak scoring on a 20-footer.
Both teams then tightened their play and played error-free hockey until a questionable call in the final minutes of regulation gave the Devils a chance to win.
Hatcher was called for elbowing with about two minutes remaining, but the Caps were up to the challenge and even had a chance for the winning goal while short-handed.
"What's great about this," said Scott Stevens of the Devils, "is the Capitals played really great against us last year, winning five of seven games. Just this weekend we matched the number of wins we had against them all last year. Coming back two goals down and winning in overtime wasn't bad either."
The Caps, who had gone 2-0-1 in their previous three games before this weekend, fell three games under .500 again. With the next game against the Minnesota North Stars not until Wednesday at the Capital Centre, Murray decided to give his team today off.