The first-round playoff series between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning was supposed to be a battle of two dominant goaltenders, but through two games only Washington's Olaf Kolzig has lived up to his billing.
Tampa Bay all-star goalie Nikolai Khabibulin was unbeaten in 16 consecutive games, but has lost three straight starts, surrendering 12 goals while the Capitals have built a 2-0 lead in the series.
Washington has beaten him eight times, several of them soft goals, and Khabibulin's career playoff record (10-15, 2.89 goals against average) is far inferior to his regular season marks.
When asked if Khabibulin's best game of this series was yet to come, Tampa Bay Coach John Tortorella did not hesitate to respond.
"It better be," Tortorella said. "No question . . . There's no question that Nik needs to look straight down the ice [at Kolzig], and that's the guy he needs to beat. That's how you crawl back into a series like this. That's the key."
The Capitals scored on Khabibulin 16 minutes into the series and never appeared to fear him.
"I don't think we were intimidated by him," Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We've had some success against him this year . . . . I think it's going to affect Tampa when they see their starting goalie give up eight [goals], and wonder if he can win the big game, but I don't think it's going to affect us whether he has a great game or not."
Who's Feeling Pressure?
The Capitals have never won the first three games of a best-of-seven series before, and lead 2-0 for just the fourth time while playing their 26th such series. Washington's history of playoff failure includes blowing 2-0 and 3-1 series leads, and Tortorella is using that as a motivating force for his inexperienced club.
"[Washington] has had problems closing out a series before, and the pressure is on them," Tortorella said. "They're supposed to win it now.". . .
Washington has nine goals in this series; the Capitals scored 10 goals in their last playoff series, a six-game defeat to Pittsburgh in 2001, and netted eight goals in a five-game defeat to Pittsburgh in 2000. . . . Tampa Bay has lost 11 consecutive games at MCI Center. . . . Defenseman Sergei Gonchar saw a chiropractor yesterday morning after being hit from behind by Fredrik Modin in Game 2, but practiced well and said he feels fine. . . . Washington's top minor league affiliate, the Portland Pirates, lost their first-round series and General Manager George McPhee said he will recall as many as six players in a few days, though almost none would have a realistic chance to play in a game. . . . Tortorella opted not to allow enforcer Andre Roy to accompany the team to Washington, an unusually stern move. Roy was benched for taking a bad penalty early in Game 2. . . . Tortorella is likely to move veteran winger Dave Andreychuk to the second line tonight and Martin St. Louis to the first line, trying to boost a weak attack and spark top centers Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards, who have struggled in the series. Those moves would weaken the team's checking line, however, which already had difficulty keeping up with Jaromir Jagr's line. . . . About 2,000 seats remained for Game 3 as of last night.