May 1 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center
Game 2, Eastern Conference Semifinal Series (Tampa Bay leads, 1-0) Time: 7:00 pm TV: Versus Radio: 1500AM, XM and Capitals Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on www.washingtoncaps.com
Tampa Bay Lightning (46-25-11 in regular season)
Washington Capitals (48-23-11 in regular season)
For the last several months, the Capitals have been playing a certain brand of hockey, a responsible, patient and diligent game that has paid off handsomely in the win column. In Friday night’s Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps got away from their game plan and it cost them. The Lightning jumped out to a 1-0 series lead by virtue of its 4-2 Game 1 win.
“It happens,” says Caps center Jason Arnott. “When you get a young bunch and a young group and you play your hearts out for the first round and things don’t go your way in the second round or in a game, sometimes you tend to panic a little bit and get away from your game plan.”
After the Lightning scored the game’s first goal in the game’s early minutes, the Caps dominated the remainder of the first frame and took a 2-1 lead early in the second stanza. Washington was buzzing around the Tampa Bay net consistently, but was unable to increase its lead. In the process, it got away from playing its brand of hockey, and that played right into the Lightning’s hand.
“We kind of fell into their game a little bit,” says Caps center Marcus Johansson, “having turnovers and odd-man rushes [against]. And they’re good when it comes down to that. That’s not how we wanted to play the game. We kind of lost our game plan a little bit, and it cost us the game.”
If there can be a silver lining to a playoff loss, it’s that the Caps believe they know why they lost and how to correct it. If that turns out to be the case, it could be a cheap lesson to learn early in a playoff series.
“Of course it’s a lesson,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, “especially when you get the lead and you give a different team an opportunity to come back. It was our mistakes that started it. [Sunday] is going to be a new day, it’s going to be a new game. We’re going to watch the video, we’re going to see what we didn’t do right.”
“The good thing is that we realize [what we did],” says Arnott. “We have to stick to our game plan for the whole 60 minutes. Then hopefully good things will happen for us.”
Most of the Capitals took to the ice for Saturday’s optional practice, a session that was followed by some video work and meetings. It shouldn’t be hard for the Caps to reclaim their game in Sunday’s Game 2; it’s what sustained them through more than half of the regular season and a five-game ouster of the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
“I just think we have to play like we did in the last 10 minutes of the first and the first 10 minutes of the second when we played our game, we got the puck deep, finished checks and worked hard,” says Johansson. “I think that’s how we’re going to win games and we have to stick to that throughout the whole game and not fall into something else just because we’re in the lead. It’s a fine line there, but we have to play the whole 60 minutes the way we’re supposed to play.”
Hard work and patience are key components against the Lightning. Tampa Bay sits back and challenges teams to try to forces pucks through the neutral zone. The Caps played extremely well for half of Game 1, and they had the Bolts spinning when they worked hard, got pucks deep and exacted a toll on the Lightning defense. But when it was all said and done, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau believed the Lightning worked harder.
“I think it’s the key to every game and every series,” says Boudreau, of working hard. “I’m like you guys; I watch TV. Every time you listen to another coach’s press conference that loses, [he says], ‘we didn’t win the battles. We didn’t get the loose pucks.’ And when you don’t do that, you’re not going to be successful. I thought they got more than we did [Friday] night. We’ll try to do better [Sunday].”
The Caps need to avoid being hypnotized by the Lightning’s style and take control of the game on their own terms.
“There is patience involved in it for sure,” says Boudreau. “They’re sitting back there waiting for you. They’ve had 82 games, or 89-90 games now to work on this. They’re really patient doing it. They do a really good job of it. Other teams aren’t so patient and we’ll have to learn how to be a little more patient.”
Washington may be without defenseman John Carlson for Sunday’s Game 2. Carlson, who played in all 82 of Washington’s regular season games in 2010-11, left Friday’s game late in the second period. After a brief shift in the third, he retired for the night. Boudreau believes Carlson may be good to go on Sunday. Blueliner Sean Collins is likely to step in if Carlson is unable to answer the bell.
The Lightning also practiced on Saturday, hitting the Verizon Center sheet in the afternoon. Neither forward Simon Gagne nor defenseman Pavel Kubina – both of whom left Friday’s Game 1 because of injury – skated and neither seems likely to play in Sunday’s Game 2.
“We are used to having guys missing,” says Lightning coach Guy Boucher. “But you also have to look at the opponent. We can do well, but if the opponent does great, we won’t necessarily win the game. But we’re confident that the guys who are going to play are okay to play. We’ve had that many, many times this year, throughout the year. Nobody’s panicking about it.”
The Caps aren’t panicking, either. They know if they play the way they’ve played for the last several months, they can even the series on Sunday.
“We had good energy,” says Boudreau. “We had a bad five minutes, the last five minutes of the second period. I wanted to get a 2-1 lead going into the third period; we’ve been pretty successful with the leads. And then we made a couple bad plays. Then you’re playing catch-up to a team that’s very good defensively and very frustrating to the offensive team. It was a tough haul.”
“It’s not always going to be good times,” says Capitals forward Marco Sturm. “It’s about working hard every night and coming in every night and getting prepared, too. There are going to be bumps in the road; that’s playoff hockey. We know we can play better and we will play better. But we’ve got to show it [Sunday] night.”