LANDOVER -- It was too cold and a little too early for sprin fever.
But the Washington Capitals played like they had a bad case of it yesterday at the Capital Centre.
The Capitals were listless most of the day, failing to move the puck well and allowing themselves to be distracted by the New Jersey Devils' physical style of play.
The result was a 5-2 victory for the Devils and the end of Washington's four-game winning streak before 16,328 in the first of a six-game homestand for the Capitals.
Third-place New Jersey moved to within three points of second-place Washington in the Patrick Division.
The Devils, who rallied from a 1-0 deficit late in the first period with four unanswered goals, got two goals each yesterday from center Alexander Semak and defenseman Bruce Driver.
New Jersey goalie Craig Billington also had a good day, making 19 saves and fending off the Capitals every time they tried to rally.
Kelly Miller, who scored both goals for the Capitals, said his team tried to "make too many pretty plays" against a team that was "standing four guys up at the blue line."
"We refused to dump the puck in," said Miller. "That's not the way we should be playing. It was a big game for us but we didn't play like it. We need every game because we want to have some momentum for the playoffs."
Miller laid some of the blame on the Capital Centre ice surface.
"Guys were looking down to find the puck because the ice was bad, and that was affecting the flow of the game," he said. "I expected a physical game and they won the battles. There was a lot of bumping going on and a lot of muck, muck goals. We started to back down when they went ahead 4-1 [at 5:25 of the third period]. That was the turning point."
Semak started the New Jersey rally with one of the stranger goals anyone will see. He put the puck in the net at 18:37 of the first period but it didn't go on the scoreboard until 19:42 of the first period.
The two teams played one minute and five seconds, with the Capitals thinking they were ahead 1-0 before a review of an earlier shot by Semak was requested.
After replays showed the shot by Semak went into the right corner of the net, the goal was given to the Devils and the game was tied at 1. The clock was reset at 18:37.
"I don't know how it took so long to call it [a goal]," said Capitals goaltender Don Beaupre. "I didn't see how it couldn't have gone in because I didn't hear it hit anything like the pipe. It would have been nice to go into the intermission with a 1-0 lead, but I guess it was the right call and we couldn't do anything about it."
Washington general manager David Poile said: "There's no doubt it was a good goal. You don't want to win on a bad call or a goal that wasn't good."
Beaupre said he didn't think the Capitals were "ready to win. We knew they had three guys at the blue line and knew we had to make smart dumps but we turned the puck over too much at the blue line."
Beaupre had 23 saves and kept the game close until the third period when the Devils scored twice in 1:19 to take a 4-1 lead at 5:25 of the final period.
New Jersey coach Herb Brooks said it was a simple game plan for his team. "If you're not going to take the ice away from their defense, you're not going to control Washington," said Brooks.
Washington coach Terry Murray said his team "brought a lot of problems on ourselves. We gave them too many opportunities early, then started moving the puck a little better and ran out of patience quickly in the third period."
The Capitals were outshot 15-7 in the first period but still were in a 1-1 tie and could have been ahead if the Semak shot had not been reviewed.