TAMPA, FL - MAY 03: The Washington Capitals watch the closing minute of play in their 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at St Pete Times Forum on May 3, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. The Lightning defeated the Capitals 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
After dropping two games at home, the Caps headed to Tampa Bay hoping to repay the favor and get themselves back in the series. To do that they knew they'd need to bring more intensity than they had before, that they'd need to tighten up their defense, take an early lead and hold on...with maybe a bit of desperation tossed into the mix for good measure.
It didn't go exactly as planned.
Once again the Caps gave up the first goal, dominated stretches but were dominated in others, failed to get good bounces, and allowed themselves to get turned inside out by the Lightning. As a result, they find themselves down 3-0 in the series. And that bit of desperation is now a whole lot bigger.
Ten more notes on the game:
- During the regular season, the Caps prided themselves on their team defense, squeaking out multiple one-goal games thanks to their ability to take the lead and shut it down. How does the saying go again...regular season means [Franceschetti]? Never was that more true than in the third period, where the Caps let that one-goal lead that was so hard to get slip away in a matter of seconds: 24 to be exact.
- It was the second of those quick goals, off the skate of Ryan Malone, that would be the eventual game-winner; and it was the second of those quick goals that was the perfect example of what the Caps have been lacking. There haven't been any goals off of feet, butts, pinky fingers...none of the "lucky" bounces that seem to follow teams who work for them.
- In Game 2 it was miscommunication and poor line changes that cost the Caps not once, but twice, including on the overtime game-winning goal. Tonight it was a problem once more, as miscommunication at the bench led to a too many men call...negating a goal that not only would have given the Caps an early lead, but given them the rare and elusive power play goal, as well.
- So it was the Lightning who struck first instead, pouncing on a failed clearing attempt and taking advantage of a poor defensive play by both John Erskine and Mike Green to slide it under Michal Neuvirth. Throw in a lift-check from behind that wasn't by Brooks Laich and an open five-hole, and just like that it was 1-0 Lightning.
- At a time when the Caps need their veterans to lead by example, Mike Knuble set an uncharacteristically bad one with his awful elbowing penalty in the first period. Luckily it didn't cost the team, and he redeemed himself somewhat with the go-ahead goal early in the second (from right in the blue paint, surprisingly enough), but he should really know better.
- It took a two-man advantage, a trickling puck, a scrum in front of the net and a Russian captain left all alone, but the Caps finally cashed in on the power play. In fact, for the first time in the series the Caps won the special teams battle with the only power play goal of the contest, and killed off all four Tampa power plays. Hooray for small victories.
- You could argue that either of the first two goals were goals that need to be stopped, but Neuvirth wasn't the reason this game went in the loss column for the Caps. He faced 30 shots, 15 of which came in the third period (you know, when the Caps were tightening up defensively to hold a lead) and made a few saves late that gave his team every chance to win. Still, you have to think that he's on the bench tomorrow night...right?
- There weren't all that many guys who really came to play tonight, but Alex Ovechkin was one of them...and even he had his lazy/ineffective/painfully bad moments (including four giveaways). Still, he picked up an important go-ahead goal and an assist, fired five shots on net and threw four hits.
- Jeff Schultz and Scott Hannan probably had the roughest outing of any of the Caps' defensemen, but no one escaped unscathed in this one and all three pairs were victimized for a Tampa goal.
- Troubling note to end on: Mike Green played 59 seconds in the third period...and then didn't see the ice again for the rest of the night.
It'd be easy to throw in the towel down three games to none in a series; there's no question that many of us fans have already done so. But if the Caps want to make this a series - and it's not wholly impossible for them to do so - it needs to start, continue and finish tomorrow. That desperation we mentioned earlier needs to take over, and it needs to take over now.
Because we get to do it all over again in less than 24 hours...and the Lightning will be looking for blood.