The last thing the Washington Capitals wanted was to fall behind two games to none in the best of seven series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did, courtesy of an overtime goal by Vincent Lecavalier, who took advantage of a bad Capitals line change to patiently roof the overtime winner over Michal Neuvirth's glove hand. Lest fans solely blame a poor line change for the loss, there were certainly other culprits, namely an inept power play, solid goaltending from Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson and another fluky goal, this one initiated by notorious Caps-killer Martin St. Louis.
The Caps wasted a valiant come-back on a night when the Lightning were missing two regulars, Pavel Kubina and Simon Gagne. Alex Ovechkin tied the game at two with 1:08 left in the third period, sending the Verizon Center faithful into a frenzy. It wasn't enough though, and the Caps now have to find a way to win four of the next five games to extend their season.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The St.Louis-Lecavalier-Steven Stamkos trio had a hand in all three goals for the Lightning. Yet, they were collectively -16 on the night in CORSI. Even when they're bad, they're good. They may become more dominant in the next two games when Guy Boucher gets the last line change and can match these guys up against whomever he wants.
- Some will no doubt call Martin St. Louis's goal that put the the Bolts up 2-1 "lucky". I wouldn't. In that flurry, the Caps were lost in their own zone, allowing St. Louis to zip a pass in front of the net. The fact that it hit Mike Green and went in could be considered lucky. The fact that the Caps were scrambling around was due to hard work by Tampa players. And if Mike Green doesn't touch the puck on that sequence, Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier puts it in anyway.
- If the Caps are going to win this series and expect to make noise in the next rounds, they have to start winning the special teams battle. Going 0-for-6 on the PP is simply unacceptable. This game has a different complexion if the Caps convert on just one of them.
- Bruce Boudreau mixed lines today, separating Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin for most of the game. On one hand, the Caps put up plenty of shots. On the other hand, the first two lines occassionally looked out-of-sync, although a lot of credit for that has to go to Tampa. Perhaps the team should go back to the lines that brought them to the dance: Backstrom/Ovechkin/Knuble + Semin/Arnott/Laich?
- How did Alex Ovechkin respond after a poor Game 1? Mixed results. He scored a clutch goal, dished out five hits and put five shots on net, but he also forced unnecessary shots and took a bad stick penalty early in the game. It certainly wasn't a bad performance, but it wasn't superstar caliber either.
- One of the keys to the Caps success this series was getting traffic in front of Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson. Both Caps goals were the direct result of throwing the puck on goal and crashing for loose rebounds. Otherwise, Roloson was superb, and not just in stopping shots on goal. He was very active stopping the hard-around dump-in, leading to easy beak-outs up the middle for the Lightning defense.
- Credit Tampa's defense for limiting second-chance opportunities for the Caps. They blocked shots (24) and they collapsed around the net anytime Caps forwards tried to crash the paint for rebounds. Unitl the Caps can routinely punish the Lightning - by getting the puck to the point and getting low, hard slapshots on net - Tampa will continue to play this way.
- Another concern facing the Caps as they play two games in the next three nights is that Tampa is not exerting much energy this series. A benefit of Tampa's trap is that their players don't skate "hard" minutes. Expect a fresh and ready Lightning squad Tuesday night.
- Anyone notice Lecavalier's "Verizon Center leap" after scoring his game-winner? Maybe it will help get the Caps attention. Tampa players didn't appreciate Ovechkin's hot stick celebration two years ago, let's see how the Caps respond to Vinny's little taunt.
- Although Michael Neuvirth has played very well, the question is bubbling up: is it Varly time? Goaltending hasn't been the problem for the Caps, but this team is teetering on the edge of disaster. With back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday, it will be interesting to see if Bruce considers putting in a rested-but-rusty Semyon Varlamov for a game, or stick with Neuvirth.
The Caps are not being out-worked here. They are controlling the play and out-shooting the Lightning. They are, however, being out-smarted by a patient Tampa team that is sticking to their system, killing penalties, conserving energy and being opportunistic with their limited chances. It's a classic rope-a-dope. In other words, the Caps are being out-schemed, with Tampa's 1-3-1 and defensive zone shell continuously frustrating the Caps ability to get high quality shots and rebound opportunities, all while wearing the team down mentally and physically. The Caps need to adjust, quickly.
Then there's the deficient power play, the onus of which falls upon the shoulders of the Young Guns, a core set of players whom the success of the franchise rests upon. Up to this point the Lightning stars have played better than the Caps stars, and that's why the series is 2-0. If the Caps are going to claw their way back in to this series, it's going to require this group to elevate their play, primarily with a man-advantage. Otherwise, this season will result in another premature playoff exit.
And there are no excuses this time.