The Washington Capitals had the Tampa Bay Lightning right where they wanted them heading into period three with a 3-2 lead. But the Caps seemed to forget everything they thought they learned this season and were totally outworked in the final stanza for the third straight game and lost, 4-3. Only some brilliant saves by Michal Neuvirth (26 saves) down the stretch gave the Capitals any hope as the Bolts outshot Washington 15-5 in the final frame, scoring two goals in 24 seconds just over five minutes into period three off of some terrible giveaways and defensive breakdowns. The Capitals now trail this best of seven series three games to none and if they lose on Wednesday night their season is over.
Here are the highlights and analysis of a game that saw some terrible efforts from a handful of Capitals:
- Tampa outworked the Caps in period three, plain and simple. They came out flying and Washington couldn’t match their surge. The Bolts repeatedly got to the loose pucks while the Capitals seemed to play like they were skating in quicksand. In every game in this series, the Bolts have dominated the last frame and you have to give Tampa Coach Guy Boucher credit for that. He makes sure his team sits back in their 1-3-1 for 40 minutes to conserve energy and then he lets his outstanding forwards loose in the final frame. The recipe has worked to perfection while Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has been unable to get some of his players to match the compete level of the Lightning skaters.
- Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) certainly gave his all tonight, although he made some mistakes. However, if Alexander Semin (1 assist, -2) had competed like the Great #8 did, Washington probably wins. It was the wrong time for #28 to have one of his worst games of the season. Nicklas Backstrom continues to be missing in action. I have no idea how his play has fallen so far off but he looks nothing like the confident, powerful forward from the last few seasons. Marcus Johansson (-2), who did draw an important penalty that helped the Caps grab the lead in the middle frame, had an off night and for the most part he looked tentative and out of position. But MJ90 is a rookie and he’s been great so far so he can’t shoulder the blame that several of the Washington blue liners deserve. John Erskine was absolutely awful as was Jeff Schultz. The slow duo was -2 and -1, respectively, and just could not keep up with the speed of several Tampa forwards. Mike Green (1 assist, -1) was weak in his own zone and ended up leaving after one shift in period three due to a lower body injury (h/t @SkyKerstein). Losing #52 certainly hurt Washington’s chances of winning down the stretch.
- Despite being on the ice for the fluky game winning goal, Karl Alzner and John Carlson were the best d-pair (both +1) and even though the Caps season is pretty much over, there is future hope with those two on the back end. The loss of Dennis Wideman has really hurt this run but he is under contract next year as well, but so is a slow Schultz and an oft-injured Tom Poti. Green will be in the last year of his contract too, so something has to give on the back end.
- In summary, this is nearly as low as it gets for a Washington team that seemed to have high hopes coming out of round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They had several days to rest and heal while the Lightning had to keep playing. The Caps could never get their momentum, and more importantly, their confidence back in these three games. The 3-0 hole looms large and I just can’t see the Caps coming back at all, especially if Green is out again on Wednesday.
Notes: Washington outshot the Bolts 27-15 through two periods, but only led 3-2 due to terrible mistakes on the backend…the Caps were +1 in the special teams department for the first time in the series but their PP only tallied on a 5 on 3 advantage. For the series, the Capitals are 1 for 16 on the power play. Tampa went 0 for 4 in game three…the Caps correctly had a first period goal wiped out due to too many men on the ice. Clearly there were some guys who suffered from a total lack of focus in the most crucial game of the season.