After much debate, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Cassidy opted to return to the top three lines he used to start his team's playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. But unlike the first two games at St. Pete Times Forum, when Washington scored nine times total to win both, the Capitals' attack was largely stagnant tonight in a 2-1 loss.
Washington has scored two goals in the last two games and five in the last three games, getting little sustained production from stars such as Jaromir Jagr. Now, with the Capitals facing elimination in Game 6 Sunday at home, Cassidy is likely to make more changes to his top lines, particularly Jagr's.
Tonight the coaches decided to leave Jagr's line -- with Michael Nylander and Kip Miller -- intact to start the game, but Miller continues to have a poor series and, after taking a penalty in the second period, rarely played, finishing with less than 61/2 minutes of ice time.
Cassidy had dabbled with the idea of putting a bigger body on that line, with Tampa Bay's physical defensive pairing of Pavel Kubina and Jassen Cullimore largely silencing Jagr the last three games -- and he ended up moving grinder Ivan Ciernik to the top line midway through the game.
During meetings with the coaches, Jagr had lobbied to keep Miller -- his longtime friend and teammate -- on his line, making a strong case. But their chemistry, which can so often break open a game, has not been present in this series.
"Jagr's thought, which is a good one, is he wants to spread [Tampa Bay's defense] out, because they're all jamming the net," Cassidy said. "And to bring another big body to the net -- now you've got 14 legs and seven big trunks there -- and he wants to get guys out of that area."
However, Jagr's line was better with Ciernik, who was playing his first NHL playoff game and assisted on Washington's only goal.
Ciernik "has a big body, he can skate and he's scored some big goals for us this year," Cassidy said.
Miller, who had a lengthy meeting with Cassidy at today's morning skate, was also pulled off the power play after allowing Tampa Bay to have a shorthanded two-on-one in Game 4 and Peter Bondra shifted back to his normal spot on the left point. But that is slumping too. Since scoring three times in Game 2 the power play is 1 for 11.
Unlucky Game 5
The Capitals are now 2-7 when playing Game 5 in a series that is tied at 2. Washington has trailed 3-2 in a series seven times, and lost six of those series (only beating Philadelphia on Dale Hunter's Game 7 overtime goal in 1988). Five of those times they were eliminated in six games. Washington is 6-17 overall when playing Game 5. Of the 16 previous times they lost Game 5, they went on to lose the series 14 times.
Good First Line
Tampa Bay's first line -- Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal -- has scored 10 goals in the series and is a collective plus-11 defensively. The rest of the team has combined for two goals -- none since Game 2 -- and is a collective minus-14, a shocking, yet successful, imbalance. . . . Both teams followed superstitions leading up to this game. The Capitals, unable to get rooms in their usual hotel in Tampa for the opening two games, were forced to stay in the suburbs. But, after winning those two games, decided to stay at that hotel again for Game 5. The Lightning won both of its games on the road, so to simulate that atmosphere the team stayed in a hotel Thursday night, something teams do occasionally during the postseason.