The Washington Capitals missed out on two points when they gave away a two-goal lead to the Los Angeles Kings and lost, 5-4, during a shootout March 25. But they potentially face a bigger loss with an injury to center Nicklas Backstrom.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty upended Backstrom, one of Washington's best playmakers and the quarterback of the power play, early during the second period. Backstrom landed on his left shoulder. The team listed it as an upper-body injury.
Backstrom didn't return to the game. Any further absence would be a blow to the Capitals' hopes of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs for a seventh consecutive season.
The fourth overall selection of the 2006 NHL Draft, Backstrom has 13 goals and a team-high 57 assists. His assists total was third-most in the NHL as of March 25.
Backstrom, with the exception of one season, has been durable since entering the NHL during the 2007-08 season. He didn't miss any games for three seasons, sat out five games during the 2010-11 season, and missed 40 games during the 2011-12 season because of a concussion.
Backstrom played the full 48 games last season, which was shortened because of the lockout, and hasn't missed a game this season.
The Capitals are off until March 29, when they host the Boston Bruins, who were 9-0-1 during their past 10 games as of March 25.
Head coach Adam Oates downplayed Backstrom's departure.
"Every team has guys that go out," Oates told reporters after the game. "We've got plenty of guys that can do the job."
Captain Alex Ovechkin scored two power-play goals during the first period March 25. Forward Dustin Penner's tally late during the second, after a Kings goal, gave the Caps a 3-1 cushion entering the third period.
But instead of the shutdown defense the Capitals had displayed on their successful West Coast trip last week, they reverted to their old ways and coughed up the lead.
Kings forward Dwight King made it a one-goal game 45 seconds into the third when he skated without the puck around Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov, and tucked home a rebound past goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Eight minutes later, Los Angeles winger Marian Gaborik from the left circle snapped a wrist shot over Halak's glove. The Kings took a 4-3 lead after Caps rookie defenseman Patrick Wey turned the puck over in the defensive zone. Los Angeles winger Dustin Brown collected the loose puck in the slot and fired it past Halak with 7:05 remaining.
Caps rookie forward Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his first NHL goal with 42 seconds remaining during regulation to help the Caps salvage at least one point.
Washington forward Eric Fehr had pounced on the puck behind Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, and passed it into space toward the blue line. Ovechkin one-timed it, and Kuznetsov found the puck behind Quick at the top of the crease. He backhanded it in.
Washington's one point for the shootout loss gave the team 80 total, with nine games remaining. For two wild-card spots, there were four teams with 80 points as of March 25. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings would qualify now, because they've played fewer games.
The Caps can qualify for the playoffs by finishing in the top three in the Metropolitan Division, or via the wild card, which goes to the next two best Eastern Conference teams.
A wild-card spot would earn the Caps a first-round series against either the Bruins (104 points) or the Pittsburgh Penguins (97 points). The New York Rangers (84 points, nine games remaining) and Philadelphia Flyers (83 points, 11 games remaining) hold the second and third places, respectively, in the Metropolitan Division.