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The Morning Narrative: That 5-on-3, That Third Period and Asphyxiating Canines

Three things we’re talking about this morning when we’re talking about the Caps

Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Up 3-1 after their best start of the still-young series and a little back-and-forth, the Caps were gifted (or earned... it doesn’t matter) a full two-minute 5-on-3 advantage with a chance to essentially put the game away. Instead, they displayed a somewhat stunning lack of urgency and creativity and, perhaps most notably, accuracy - Kevin Shattenkirk was credited with three shots that missed the net (including one that largely lacked a goaltender), Alex Ovechkin missed another, and the Caps registered just two ~40-foot shots on net during the fruitless two minutes:

Was that where the Caps lost the game? Of course not. But it is where they didn’t win it. Just ask Matt Niskanen...

...or Mike Babcock:

The Caps got their only other power play of the game soon thereafter and couldn’t get much going on that advantage either, at which point you knew that the Leafs were “owed” some opportunities of their own (because NHL officiating is nothing if not predictable in that sense), and that they’d probably live to regret not making good on that golden opportunity. As we tweeted at the time...

2. Sure enough, the Leafs tied the game up before the middle frame was even complete, setting up a potentially season-defining third period for the Stanley Cup hopeful Caps. How’d they respond? How about four minor penalties (including Lars Eller’s high-stick that carried over into overtime before Tyler Bozak converted with the extra man to send Leaf fans home euphoric), a 28-9 shot-attempt deficit and more than 13 minutes of shot-less hockey to start the frame? Graphically, that trainwreck looked like this, via Natural Stat Trick:

That’s... not good. The Caps can talk about missed opportunities all they want, but the reality is that they still entered the third period tied and were extremely fortunate to make it to overtime. As we noted above, the Caps didn’t win the game in the middle of the second, but for all intents and purposes, they lost it in the third.

3. So are the Caps what apparent Tony Kornheiser disciple Ken Campbell says they are?

To answer that, we’ll yield the floor back to Niskanen:

Yep. It’s a fair question until it isn’t, and right now it is. Especially when, for example, a Caps team that has gone a League-best 81-6-7 during the regular season when leading after one period under Barry Trotz is just 3-2 in the same situation in the playoffs. Call it “killer instinct” or “closer mentality” or just call it a curse, but the Caps’ inability to hold leads when it matters is a thing... until it isn’t.

Or, to put it another way...