Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Cassidy continued to use his usually strident checking line on Tampa Bay's top line last night in Game 4 of this first-round series, but the Lightning again got the better of the matchup when it mattered most.
Vincent Lecavalier's line accounted for all four of Tampa Bay's goals in Tuesday's victory -- scoring three times against Washington's checking line -- and Lecavalier struck again for a vital insurance goal in the third period of Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory last night at MCI Center, tying the series at 2.
Tampa Bay Coach John Tortorella reworked his first line before Game 3, adding speedy Martin St. Louis to Lecavalier and Vaclav Prospal and Tuesday night they exploded for seven points matched against the Capitals' line of Jeff Halpern, Steve Konowalchuk and Mike Grier and defensemen Calle Johansson and Brendan Witt. Late in Game 3 Cassidy put Peter Bondra in Grier's spot, looking for more acceleration and attack, and he kept Bondra, Halpern, Konowalchuk, Witt and Johansson against Lecavalier last night.
Lecavalier's line scored both of its team's even-strength goals last night and burned Halpern's line to take a 3-1 lead early in the third period. For the second straight game Halpern let Lecavalier get to the net unmanned to score easily off a faceoff in Washington's zone. Cassidy had hoped the normally reliable defensive players would rise to the occasion, and said he will continue using them in this challenging role.
"We thought [Game 3] was an aberration with our guys," Cassidy said. "Halpern's line has been tough to play against all year and so have Calle and Witter. We wanted to give them that assignment, those are leaders on our hockey club and they're going to have to accept it in a certain respect and they're going to have to be better in that regard.
"They're a shutdown line and this is the time of year you can make a name for yourself in that regard, and I hope they're up to the challenge. It's 2-0 in the series and they can't beat themselves up because the other guys got the best of them for a couple of nights. They got the best of [Lecavalier's line in Tampa] and they have to look at that too."
Tortorella changed his defensive pairs before Game 3 in an effort to slow down Jagr, and stuck with the changes last night. Tortorella now has hulking defensemen Jassen Cullimore and Pavel Kubina matched against Jagr's line, moving Cullimore into a spot held by Stan Neckar in the first two games. Jagr scored four points in Game 2 before Tortorella's changes but has notched just two assists in two games since facing this tandem. . . . There were abundant empty seats at MCI Center for both home games in this series, with an announced crowd of 15,576 last night; the Capitals have won two of their last 11 home playoff games. . . . Tampa Bay had lost 11 straight at MCI Center before winning the past two. . . . The Capitals have recalled five players from minor league Portland -- goaltender Maxime Ouellet, defensemen Nolan Yonkman and Jakub Cutta, and forwards Mike Farrell and Colin Forbes -- although they are not likely to play. . . . On Tuesday night Washington became the second team in NHL history to lose a playoff game while killing a five-on-three power play. The other occasion was April 13, 1933, when the New York Rangers beat Toronto in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals. . . . Since 1990, eight teams have taken 2-0 leads in best-of-seven series and gone on to lose. The Capitals managed it on three of those occasions.