May 4 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum
Game 4, Eastern Conference Semifinal Series (Tampa Bay leads, 3-0)
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Capitals Radio Network Pre-Game: Capitals Report/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)
Just over a year ago, members of the Washington Capitals spoke about how eager they were to atone for a shocking first-round playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. After leading the series 3-1, the top-seeded Caps scored a total of three goals in the last three games and suffered an excruciatingly premature postseason exit.
After waiting all those months, enduring another grueling 82-game season and earning another top seed, the Caps are now a pedestrian 4-4 in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs and they’re on the verge of another ignominious exit at the hands of a much lower-seeded team.
Unless the Capitals can pull out a win over the fifth-seeded Lightning in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series on Wednesday, their season will grind to a halt here in this Florida city.
Tampa Bay downed Washington 4-3 in Tuesday’s Game 3 to push the Caps into an 0-3 ditch in the series.
The Caps now need to win four straight or face up to falling short again. Washington has not been swept in a postseason series since Detroit took the 1998 Stanley Cup final from the Caps in four straight.
Washington won’t have to wait long to get back at it; puck drop for Game 4 comes about 21 hours after the Capitals skated off dejectedly in the wake of their Game 3 setback.
“It’s another learning experience for us,” says Caps center Jason Arnott. “Our backs are against the wall. There’s nothing to lose now. We have to win [Wednesday].”
For the first time in the three games in the series, the Capitals managed to take a lead into the locker room for an intermission. They forged a 3-2 lead heading into the third period: Washington was 31-0-3 in such situations heading into Tuesday’s Game 3.
The Lightning struck twice in a span of just 24 seconds early in the third, and they put the clamps down on the Capitals the rest of the way. Washington was outshot 15-5 in the third on its way to a third straight setback in the series. The Lightning has now won six straight games.
In another series first, the Caps won the special teams battle. Washington finally struck for its first power play goal (1-for-16, 6.3%) in the series on Tuesday, but needed a two-man advantage in order to do so. The Capitals also killed off all four Lightning power plays to keep the Bolts at bay with the extra man for the first time in the series.
“Same work ethic that we had [in Game 3], except for the [third-period] lapse,” says Arnott, when asked how the Caps can pull out of their deep hole and win the series. “We have to just stick to our system and when we do that, we play great hockey. When we don’t, it’s in our net or there are breakdowns. We get into a run-and-gun situation and they seem to capitalize on it. We can’t do that in order to win.”
Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced in a losing effort in Game 3. Whether he gets the start in Game 4 is open to question; he has played well in this series but has been the victim of some bad bounces and sloppy play in front of him. The other factor is that Wednesday’s Game 4 is the second of back-to-back games.
During the 2010-11 regular season, Neuvirth started seven games on the second of back-to-back games in which he had also played the first. He was 3-2-1 in those games with a 2.51 GAA and a .910 save pct.
The last of Neuvirth’s seven starts in back-to-backs was March 6-7 in Florida and Tampa Bay, respectively. He won the first contest in Florida, but left the game against the Lightning with an injury after the first period. The Caps went on to win that game, 2-1 in a shootout.
Including the postseason, Neuvirth made 17 such starts during his days with the AHL Hershey Bears. He went 14-3 with a 1.77 GAA and a .938 save pct. in those contests.
Lightning netminder Dwayne Roloson played in both ends of back-to-back sets five times during the regular season. He was 1-3-1 with a 4.21 GAA and an .893 save pct. in second of those games, the last of which was on Jan. 15.
During the last three NHL regular seasons, Roloson has played both ends of back-to-back tilts 13 times. In the second of those contests, he is 5-6-2 with a 3.57 GAA and a .902 save pct.
Boudreau’s faith in Neuvirth didn’t seem as unshakable as it has been of late after Tuesday’s loss.
“I thought a couple of the goals he should have had,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of his netminder’s performance. “But at the same time, when they got the lead, he kept us in the game. I think as a group we lost our composure and had giveaways, and he was there to keep us involved in the game.”
Should the Caps opt to go with Semyon Varlamov for Game 4, he holds a 5-2-1 career record against the Lightning. Varlamov has two career shutouts against the Bolts, and has a 1.87 GAA and a .934 save pct. against Tampa Bay during his career.
Varlamov is 10-9 lifetime in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with a 2.49 GAA and a .915 save pct.
Regardless of who is in net, do the Caps have what it takes to come all the way back from an 0-3 deficit to win the series, a feat previously accomplished by just three teams in NHL history?
“Absolutely,” declares Arnott. “Other teams have done it. In a previous [season], I was down 3-1 to Philly and we came back to end up winning the Stanley Cup. I think it’s possible. We have to stay positive and focused in here.
“The good thing is we got some goals off Roloson and we’ll work off that.”
Notes: Caps defenseman Mike Green suffered a lower body injury and sat idle at the end of the bench for nearly all of the third period on Wednesday. If he is unable to go in Game 4, Sean Collins would be his likely replacement.