It might be overly dramatic to call Game 3 a must win for the Caps. But not by much.
Teams almost never come back from three-games-to-none series deficits, and if the Caps lose tonight and eventually flame out again, you can be certain changes will be coming.
So they're playing for a lot more than just a playoff victory tonight. It's likely that they're playing to keep this group together as currently constructed. They know it. Their biggest rival in the Southeast Division – the Lightning – knows it, too.
Conversely, a win for the Caps completely changes the complexion of this series. It would give them all the momentum heading into tomorrow's Game 4. Because without a day between games, what transpires over the next few hours will definitely carry over.
Okay, now that you're freaking out more than you were a few minutes ago, I invite you to stick around for my live blog.
Updates will follow in reverse-chronological order.
--Update, end of game: I've got to hustle downstairs. But this is going to be a distraught visitors' dressing room after a 4-3 loss.
Given their predicament, the Caps should have been desperate in the third period. Instead, they came up small with their season essentially on the line.
--Update, 18:59 third period: Lightning call timeout on icing to rest players. Caps net is empty.
--Update, 18:13 third period: Boudreau calls time out. Moments ago, he went with four forwards at even strength. It's desperation time.
--Update, 15:00 third period: Lightning out-shooting Caps 13-2 this period. Ouch.
--Update, 12:32 third period: After D-zone giveaway, Neuvirth atones for early miscues by stoning Moore from point-blank range. As of right now, that save might have saved the Caps' season.
--Update: 8:57 third period: Hall of for hooking Backstrom. Prime opportunity for Caps' power play.
But, alas, they don't get a shot. In fact, best scoring chance came at other end when Bergenheim had a shorthanded breakaway. Neuvirth, though, snagged his wrister.
--Update, 5:47 third period: Twenty four seconds after Stamkos's goal Lightning takes lead on goal by Malone. Thompson flipped puck in front, it went off Malone, who was tied up with Carlson. Both players disrupted Neuvirth, who was pushed back into net.
After review, it's determined that Malone did not use a distinct kicking motion. He was just stopping (on top of Neuvirth).
Neuvirth hasn't been great tonight. But not much he could do about that one.
--Update, 5:23 third period: Caps turn over puck, and Stamkos parlays it into a goal with a beautiful shot.
--Update, :20 third period: Ovechkin clips Roloson with stick up high. Roloson was stung, but stayed in game. Fans voiced displeasure with Ovie and the refs.
--Update, end of second period: After failing to record so much as a shot on net in the first period, Ovechkin came ready to work in the second.
The captain was all over the score sheet, notching a goal, a primary assist, two hits and four shots on goal. He also drew the penalty that led to the go-ahead goal on the power play, the Caps' first since Game 5 vs. the Rangers.
The visitors also doubled up the 'Bolts on shots, 14-7, in the period, which was easily their best of the series.
Carlson, by the way, has taken a game-best six shots. The goal was his second of his career in the postseason and first since March 31. It also marked the second by Caps defenseman in the playoffs, first at even strength.
Washington would be wise not to attempt to sit on the lead in the third. What it needs is another period just like that one. Energy. Discipline. Execution. The Caps have got the tools, now they just need to go out and use them properly.
--Update, 17:51 second period: So much for the second power play. Arnott off for slashing.
--Update, 17:37 second period. Ovechkin scores on 5-on-3. Beats Roloson after goalie loses his stick in scrum in front.
Caps still have about a minute of power-play time.
--Update, 16:26 second period: Caps get a 5-on-3 for 1:26 after Hall gets called for hooking.
--Update, 15:52 second period: Clark to the box for hooking Ovechkin on breakaway. Caps' captain ripped into O'Rourke for not awarding a penalty shot. Can't say I disagree with Ovechkin.
--Update, 13:50 second period: Brewer off for holding, negating power play. Brewer had gotten beat by Johansson in o-zone, reached out and grabbed the rookie.
--Update, 12:45 second period: Backstrom off for holding stick.
--Update, 11:51 second period: Lightning pull even on goal by Lecavalier, who, from the crease, redirected a pass from St. Louis through Neuvirth.
Schultz has got to tie up Lecavalier's stick there. Also would have helped if Hannan hadn't gotten beat by St. Louis in the corner, too.
All-around bad play.
--Update, 7:58 second period: Carlson gives Caps the lead with a bomb from the point. Fehr was tied up with Hedman in front, completely screening Roloson.
--Update 4:18 second period: Ovechkin stung by a slap shot from point. Went to bench, but appears to be okay.
--Update, :59 second period: Ovechkin comes out skating like his hair is on fire. Races in on breakaway, get stopped, but has presence of mind to fire puck back at a sprawled Roloson.
Knuble flips in rebound. Tied 1-1 now.
--Update, end of the first period: Caps are leading 13-8 in shots on goal, but it feels like the Lightning are on control. And not just because they're up 1-0.
It should be 1-1, but the Caps, of course, were whistled for too many men on the Knuble's goal, wiping out what would have been their first power-play goal since Game 5 against the Rangers. I'll need further clarification on what exactly happened – replays down here didn't show it – but that's inexcusable in October, much less May.
It's also emblematic of how the details are killing the Caps right now.
--Update, 18:50 first period: Roloson makes first huge save of the game, kicking away a point blank shot by Fehr.
Moments later, Neuvirth makes the second, turning away a breakaway chance by Purcell.
--Update, 18:30 first period: After that kill, Caps are 27 for 30 on penalty kill this postseason.
--Update, 15:27 first period: Knuble to the box for elbowing. Also, fans chanting USA! USA! as members of military are introduced on jumbotron.
--Update, 11:03 first period: Lightning's third line strikes again. A turnover by Laich in neutral zone leads to a 2-on-1 for Moore and Bergenheim, who buries shot 5-hole on Neuvirth.
The Caps rookie was clearly mad at himself, though there was plenty of blame to spread around.
The goal was Bergenheim's fifth of the playoffs. None of the Caps have five.
--Update, 7:48 first period: An apparent power play goal by Caps -- Knuble backhanded puck past Roloson from tight angle -- was wiped out by a too many men penalty on the Caps.
Yep, ladies and gentlemen, a too many men infraction on a power play.
--Update, 7:13 first period: R. Jones off for interference. Caps' power play gets its first chance to score its first goal with the man advantage this series. So far, it's 0-for-11. And, for the most part, it's been ugly.
--Update, 5:55 first period: Caps own a 5-1 edge in shots, mostly from long range. No energy in building at all.
--Update, :30 first period: It's early, and there could be some confusion regarding start time, but the building isn't near capacity.
--Update, national anthem: Fans passed around an enormous American flag during the anthem. Given recent events, that was pretty cool.
--Update, 2 minutes until opening faceoff: The Caps' starters are Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble; Alzner-Carlson; Neuvirth. The 'Bolts are going with Malone-Thompson-Hall; Brewer-Ohlund; Roloson.
Hendricks, by the way, is definitely a scratch.
Devorksi and O'Rourke are in stripes.
--Update, 10 minutes until puck drop: The arena is less than half full. That's either because fans think the game is at 7 or 7:30 (it's a 6:30 start because of TV) or they're on their boats. It's a beautifully warm and sunny day down here.
--Update, warmups: The lineup doesn't appear to have changed at all from this morning. Based on the line rushes during warmups, here's what things should look like tonight:
Roloson, meantime, will be in net for the Lightning. On an unrelated note, I ran into the Bolts goalie -- and a bunch of his teammates -- in the lobby of my hotel around 4:45. I haven't asked about this -- and it could be well known around here -- but I'm guessing they're living in the hotel for the playoffs in an effort to simulate a road environment.
--Update, 29 minutes until puck drop: Michal Neuvirth leads the Caps onto the ice for warmups. Fans filing in. Among them, a smattering of red.