That the Devils played poorly in the first two periods of tonight's 5-2 loss to the Capitals wasn't really debtable.
They still had a chance to win the game, however, after Jamie Langenbrunner's shorthanded goal 41 seconds into the third period cut what had been a 3-0 deficit to 3-2.
The Devils controlled play after that until Mike Rupp was called for goaltender interference at 9:09 of the third by referee Bill McCreary. It appeared that Washington's Tom Poti reached in with his stick, tripping Rupp as he drove to the net and causing him to slide into goaltender Jose Theodore.
"I'm not falling intentionally, so I don't know what happened," Rupp said. "I was taking the puck to the net. I think if I was standing up and ran into the goalie, then fine."
Devils coach Brent Sutter said it was clearly a trip.
"No question the video showed he was tripped on the play," Sutter said. "He's driving to the net and a guy trips him. How do you stop? Not every time a goalie gets touched does it mean there's a penalty. Sometimes there are circumstances leading into it that make it happen. It clearly shows he was tripped on the play. He's cutting to the net and gets tripped by the defenseman.,.That's a penalty and we get it called against us when it should have been called the other way."
Michael Nylander scored with only 10 seconds left in the resulting power play and the Devils' hopes of another comeback win were essentially finished. That was the Caps' third power-play goal of the night.
"It was unfortunate," Rupp said."I'm not very happy about it. We got within one and had some life, but if I have that play again I'm taking it to the net hard again."
"It's huge," Sutter said of the penalty. "As (poorly) as we played up to that point, we got life in the third off of Jamie's goal and we really started creating stuff and it's a reflection of the whole night, really. They scored with (10) seconds left on that penalty. A goal like that can't happen to you."
Sutter was referring to Nylander's goal, an unscreened right circle wrist shot that beat goaltender Scott Clemmensen between the pads. It was not a good goal against for Clemmensen.
"You've got to give up something at that point when you're killing a penalty and that's not a great goal." Sutter said.
"I should have had it,” Clemmensen admitted. “I was thinking he was going to pass more than shoot it and I think that’s one of the reasons why I let it in.”
It was not Clemmensen's best game overall. He allowed four goals on 25 shots.
"No it wasn't," Sutter said.
Clemmensen said Nylanders' first goal of the night, which put Washington up 3-0 2:16 into the second, came after Eric Fehr's inital shot - a slap shot from the left circle -- hit him in the throat.
"He shot it and it hit me in the throat and stung me a little bit," Clemmensen said. "I have the shield there and it took a weird bounce off it and I bobbled it a little bit after I got stung. I had a guy right on top of me (Boyd Gordon) and he kind of chipped it away from me before I could put my glove on it and (Gordon) chipped it out front...When you go down on all fours to cover the puck, it's kind of an all-or-nothing. If you dont get it, you're stuck on your hands and knees."
The Devils got off to a bad start with a too-many-men penalty only 4:17 into the game. It happened after Rupp and David Clarkson both became involved with Donald Brashear while heading to the bench.
"It was a bad decision on our part on a line change," Sutter said. "If you come to the bench, you have to come to the bench. You can't come and then go to an altercation because guys are coming off the bench. The guys that are coming on, they went because they're supposed to go."
Mike Green scored on the resulting power play to give the Caps a 1-0 lead. Then, Jamie Langenbrunner was called for hooking at 8:08 and Brooks Laich scored only four seconds into that power play to make it 2-0.
The Devils' penalty kill had breakdowns on the PK on both goals.
"We gave them too many power plays," Langenbrunner said. "Every time we did take a penalty, it ended up in our net. That team, I think we played them pretty well 5-on-5, It was just they won on specialty teams."
Langenbrunner saw his streak of three consecutive two-goal games come to an end, but his shorthanded goal gave him seven goals in four games since the all-star break after he had eight in 46 games before the break.
“It’s one of those things that I feel good out there and I want the puck and it’s going in the net right now,” Langenbrunner said.