It wouldn't be unreasonable to think the Caps got worse than they deserved tonight, after watching the team go through an extended period of solid hockey bookended by some weak, disorganized play, and to a certain extent that's fair. After all, Tampa Bay's game winner was a fortuitous bounce, the puck seemed to be doing its best to avoid Caps' sticks when it mattered most, and the team was unfortunately hurt by the inevitable rustiness you'd expect to see in the game's first few minutes when Sean Bergenheim converted less than three minutes into the game.
Yet to a large extent the Capitals did themselves in, reverting to ugly habits in during crunch time, with the turning point being their third-period powerplay that came as a result of holding the stick call on Brett Clark. Sensing a chance to level the score, the Caps seemed to overeager, too ready to shoot rather than work the puck around; too confident in their ability to create by stickhandling around the opposition rather than making simple passes to create time and space.
From there it was all downhill as the team took increasingly low-percentage shots, got caught up at the Tampa Bay blue line, made passes to no one in particular, and became impatient trying to break the puck out of their own zone, in the process playing right into Guy Boucher's system - and as talented as the Capitals are, the difference between their ability and Tampa's isn't enough that they're going to succeed if they do exactly what Tampa wants them to.
Ten more notes on the game:
- First things first - best wishes to Simon Gagne, who suffered another concussion after a hit by Scott Hannan. For all the talk in the NHL, and especially in the postseason, about guys being "enemies" or "combatants" and about teams "battling" or "going to war", it can be easy to forget that at the end of the day these are regular guys with wives, children, parents, and other loved ones - in other words, that the things that matter most to you and I matter most to them and that, at the end of the day, hockey is a game, a job, and a passion, but it's not a life. Get well soon, Simon.
- Not to take anything away from Alexander Semin, whose forechecking and shots we both very good, or Marco Sturm, whose pressure made the play possible, but that weak clear up the middle by Brett Clark was something that'd get you yelled at in practice at the bantam level. Veteran presence, indeed.
- I initially had no clue what the first period penalty call on Steve Downie was. Of course, that doesn't mean it was a bad call - it just means it wasn't one I was expecting to see called, which is kind of a shame when you think about it. After all, a player's responsibility for his actions doesn't go out the window after the whistle and if the league really wants to keep its players safe, they need to remember that.
- For all the Caps did right early on in this game once they got their legs under them, I'd have liked to see them get a little more aggressive around Dwayne Roloson's net, spending a little more time in the blue paint and even making a little contact with the Lightning netminder. It's not like I want the Caps to go out and start running guys, but when you have a guy who flops, complains, and gets as worked up as Roloson does on a regular basis, it makes sense engage in at least a little gamesmanship
- Eric Fehr continued his strong playoff play with three shots, three hits, and two shot blocks in addition to his goal. Not too shabby for a guy who started the playoffs in the press box.
- The Caps got a fair amount of praise during the game (well, at least through the first couple periods) for their patience in facing Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 system, but what was particularly impressive was the way the team managed to wait for opportunities without simply standing still and becoming stagnant, instead dropping forwards back to collect momentum and try to move the puck out. Bruce Boudreau doesn't get a lot of press for his tactics, and perhaps rightly so, but he had a great system to match Boucher's, and it was effective when his team executed.
- Everyone knows Steve Yzerman has done a heck of a job as the Lightning's GM in the past year, but one of his more underrated acquisitions was Sean Bergenheim. Of course Bergenheim, and the decision to grab him, aren't going to be underrated much longer if he keeps playing the way he did tonight.
- Nicklas Backstrom finished the game with 3:26 in powerplay time, behind Jason Arnott (4:32), Brooks Laich (4:38), and Marcus Johansson (3:40). Now, granted, I don't have a Jack Adams Award, but that doesn't seem like the world's greatest personnel management to me. Nicklas Backstrom has first powerplay unit talent, and he should be getting first powerplay unit ice time, both in terms of minutes and teammates, even when he's slumping.
- On the topic of pressing too hard, no one was more guilty than Alex Ovechkin, who had seven shot attempts blocked two only two on net and skated extra-long powerplay shifts on more than one occasion.
- Not exactly the most reliable statistic in the world, but the official Event Summary has the Caps with 2.4 giveaways for every takeaway. The Lightning? 1.16.
In Versus' postgame interview with Steven Stamkos, the young center was asked what the key to the win was for Tampa Bay. The first words out of his mouth were "We just stuck with our structure." The Caps should listen up. After all, if you know your enemy, you can beat your enemy.
Especially when you're the more talented team.