WASHINGTON (AP) The Washington Capitals have a lot to assess after a tough season-ending loss and an injury that could cloud their playoff prospects.
Alex Ovechkin was injured early in the third period of a 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night, crashing into the boards and being ruled out with an upper body injury . Following that, his teammates built and destroyed a two-goal lead to miss a major opportunity to move up the ranks.
Ovechkin’s uncertain status is the most alarming situation facing the Capitals, with the playoffs starting in just over a week.
“I haven’t spoken to the coach yet, so we’ll get an evaluation from him,” coach Peter Laviolette said quietly. “We’ll get an assessment and see where he stands.”
Ovechkin tripped over Toronto goaltender Erik Kallgren’s stick after failing to score on a breakaway attempt. His left arm and shoulder made contact with the boards and the 36-year-old remained on the ice for several seconds as the arena fell silent.
“I think he slipped into my stick and tripped over it, so it wasn’t my intention to trip him,” Kallgren said. “Obviously he was frustrated, but I didn’t want to trip him up. I didn’t want to cause any injury, so I hope he’s okay.
Before he could get medical attention, Ovechkin got up and skated off the ice without his stick. He shouted to the officials that no penalty was being called on the play.
The ever-durable Russian superstar usually shrugs off minor injuries and stays on the bench, as he did earlier in the night when he pulled a puck off his right shin. But Ovechkin went straight into the tunnel this time and didn’t come back.
“I’ve never met anyone tougher than this guy,” said Washington winger TJ Oshie, who scored and had another potential goal taken away by a coach’s challenge . “We all hope he is well. I just spoke to him and I think he’ll be fine. It’s always scary to see the “Big 8” come down and lay on the ice. He’s a badass. But if there was anyone who I imagine wouldn’t miss more time than he needs, it would be ‘8’.
The Capitals took a two-goal lead shortly after Ovechkin left the game in obvious pain. They left with just one point after Toronto’s Alex Kerfoot scored to end the shootout in seven rounds.
Washington had a chance to take third place in the Metropolitan Division with three games remaining in the regular season after the rival Pittsburgh Penguins lost to Philadelphia earlier in the day. An unsuccessful overtime power play cost the Capitals dearly after the Maple Leafs were called for too many men on the ice.
“It’s better that it happened now than in a week, but it’s a frustrating loss,” said Marcus Johansson, who scored his third goal since joining the Capitals at the trade deadline. “I think we all wanted this one. We’ll learn from it and move on.
Ilya Mikheyev scored in the third period to halve Toronto’s deficit, and Jason Spezza tied the game with 57.3 seconds left. Kallgren won his first NHL shootout after making 34 saves in regulation and overtime.
Ilya Lyubushkin also scored in the first period for the Maple Leafs, who closed in on home ice advantage in the first round.
Toronto is expected to face either the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning or the Boston Bruins. The Capitals could still face the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes or New York Rangers in the first round.
NOTES: Maple Leafs captain John Tavares and defenseman Timothy Liljegren had an evening off. … Defenseman Jake Muzzin missed a sixth straight game with an undisclosed injury. … Toronto rookie of the year candidate Michael Bunting was out after sustaining an injury Saturday night in Florida. Coach Sheldon Keefe said Bunting woke up feeling better but the team still had no set timeframe for the striker’s return.
Maple Leafs: Return home to face the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday in their penultimate game of the regular season.
Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Tuesday night in the first half of a home-and-away series with former coach Barry Trotz’s team.
Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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