WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- It was the first game of an 84-game season, but for the Washington Capitals, it was one that shouldn't have gotten away.
They sat around in this windy, central plains city for three days plotting victory. And then, when they had it in their hands, when they had a 4-3 lead with 10:07 gone in the third period, they let it slip away.
That was the hard part. That's what had Caps coach Terry Murray looking a little grim last night, after his Caps lost to the Winnipeg Jets, 6-4, before a sellout crowd of 15,363 at the Winnipeg Arena.
"We put out a lot of hard work and hard play and intensity to battle back to take the lead," Murray said. "But too many situations, early in the game, on turnovers and sloppy play in our own zone, really ended up costing us time after time.
"We've got to tighten up our game five-on-five and be much better in the one-on-one battles and especially deep in our own zone."
Washington fell behind 3-0 early in the second period and then received power-play goals by Dimitri Khristich and Mike Ridley and a marvelous run-and-gun display by Dave Poulin, who was acquired in the off-season from Boston, to tie it 3-3 with 13:11 gone in the second.
When Ridley passed to Khristich for the go-ahead goal 3:34 into the third period, the Caps looked about to roll.
"But then I got pulled down on a breakaway that could have put us up by two goals, and Winnipeg was able to get a goal on their power play to tie things up," said Ridley, who learned last night he would earn $875,000 in base pay this season, thanks to an arbitrator's decision.
"Not getting that goal and then allowing them to get one, that was a big swing, and then they scored short-handed and that killed us. But you can't let a team get up 3-0 in their own building and expect to win."
With the game tied at 4, the Jets' Luciano Borsato scored short-handed on a two-on-one break at the 10:07 mark. Only 1:17 later, Finnish star Teemu Selanne scored his third goal and Washington began playing as it did in the first period and never threatened again.
The Jets scored twice in the first period, using speed and quickness.
Left wing Keith Tkachuk flicked a pass past a closing Calle Johansson to Nelson Emerson, attacking from behind Kevin Hatcher on the left side. Emerson whipped the puck past Washington goalie Don Beaupre for a 1-0 lead with 9:03 gone.
Washington attempted a quick recovery, taking two shots at the other end, but with 12:02 gone, Selanne took an outlet pass from Thomas Steen and streaked down the left wing. Hatcher, trying to cut off the attack, barely had time to blink before Selanne was past and whistling the puck through Beaupre's legs for the 2-0 lead.
"Selanne has a great change of speed," said Hatcher. "He waits for the defenseman to act. When I lost my balance a little bit, he turned it up."
As it turned out, it was the only trouble Hatcher would have with Selanne. Shortly thereafter, while trying to cut down a fast-paced counterattack with 2:18 left in the period, Hatcher took Steen into the boards on the right side with an illegal cross check.
Steen's face was cut and according to NHL rules a player drawing blood is automatically given a game misconduct on top of the five-minute penalty.
"I really don't know how it happened," Hatcher said. "I thought I hit his chest with my stick. I really don't know how I could have cut the bridge of his nose under his face shield. I think the shield may have done it."