The Capitals played perhaps their best period of this Eastern Conference semifinal in the second of Game 3 Tuesday night and they would carry a 3-2 lead into the third. For the first time, Washington would be the team with a lead entering the final 20 minutes of play.
What happened after that, though, was puzzling. The Capitals had become increasingly comfortable with tight, one-goal games over the course of the season, but against the Lightning they looked flat. Washington only took two shots on goal in the first 13:08 of the period – only one before Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone scored — to give the Lightning a 4-3 edge that it carried to a victory.
The Capitals didn’t look like a team comfortable with a one-goal lead then, and they now face elimination by way of a four-game sweep on Wednesday night in Tampa.
“It’s not over. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to win,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We have to defend our lead and play our game but we didn’t. I think when we get the puck deep only one guy was chasing. We tried to play too safe. We didn’t play our way at all.”
It simply didn’t make sense in a critical juncture of a game that could have pushed Washington back into this series as opposed to putting its season on the brink. Especially after matching their postseason high for goals in a period with three in the middle stanza.
“We’ve done it all year, 3-2 lead in the third period going in and close out the game,” Mike Knuble said. “You’re upset because you’re giving them chances, keep letting them come back, letting them come back. You’re not going to win doing that.
“Now we play with the lead and we have to order up another one?” Knuble continued. “Another goal and they tie it, work hard and get another one. If we score three, four goals in a night – in a playoff game -- that’s got to be automatic. This time of year, the way this series has been going 3-2, if you score three goals in a game that should be a win.”
No one could pinpoint what exactly caused the shift into uneasiness and play that only aided Tampa Bay’s cause, but it’s something the Capitals will need to make sure doesn’t happen again in a game less than 24 hours from now.
After the Lightning reestablished the lead, the Capitals took only four shots against Dwayne Roloson. Nowhere near enough to really find a way to come back, but that low total is also a credit to Tampa Bay falling back into its 1-3-1 system that swallowed up Washington’s offensive rushes.
“I’m surprised that some of our guys panicked a little bit from behind [in the third period], but I think that comes when you’re down 2-0 in the series,” Boudreau said. “You’re pushing and they’re coming on pretty hard. They played a great third period.”