Lapses And Relapses – In the first game of their Eastern Conference Semifinal Series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals played some lengthy stretches of solid hockey and some lengthy stretches of sloppy hockey. They also played some lengthy stretches of 2009-10 Caps hockey, and in the end they paid for it with a 4-2 loss to the Lightning in Game 1 on Friday night.
Tampa Bay jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on Sean Bergenheim’s goalmouth scramble strike at 2:12 of the first. Washington’s Alexander Semin got that one back less than two minutes later when he threaded a shot through the leg pads of Lightning netminder Dwayne Roloson.
“I think the first couple of minutes,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, “we were a little not in the game. After they scored the first goal we woke up and played our style of game. You can see when we got the puck deep and finished our check, we created some chances.”
Washington was dominant for the rest of the first frame; the Caps held a 13-2 advantage in shots on goal in the first period after Semin’s goal. The Caps were on the power play for four of the final five and a half minutes of the first, but they couldn’t find the range. Their best extra man chance came when Semin caught a pass from Alex Ovechkin in his skates, swiftly kicked it to his stick blade and then clanged it off the left goalpost.
Speaking of “kicked it,” Caps forward Brooks Laich put back the rebound of a John Erskine point blast but video review showed that Laich had kicked the disc in and the goal was disallowed.
Washington did go up 2-1 early in the second. After the Lightning were whistled for icing, the Caps took possession after the offensive zone face-off and Eric Fehr fired home his first goal of the playoffs from right in front of Roloson. The Caps continued to buzz the crease around the Lightning goalie, but they were never quite able to muster the goal that might have given them a two-goal advantage.
“We had some chances to put them down 3-1,” says Caps winger Jason Chimera. “We’ve got to bear down and score some of those goals. Those are killers when you get up 3-1 in a playoff game. I think that’s a good lesson for us.”
In the meantime, they took three penalties in the second period and the game changed late in the middle frame. A Steve Downie pass down low in the Caps zone banked off the stick of Caps defenseman Scott Hannan and over the shoulder of goalie Michal Neuvirth to even the game at 2-2 with just 3:43 remaining.
Given an extra-man opportunity for the final two minutes of the period, the Lightning cashed in with just over half a minute left in the stanza. Neuvirth stopped Eric Brewer’s shot from the low left wing wall, but vacated the post a shade too soon, giving Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos just enough room to tuck the puck in.
“I think we played very well the last 10 minutes of the first period and the first 10 minutes of the second,” reflects Ovechkin. “When we got the lead we didn’t play our game. I think we played too cute and we took lots of penalties and it cost us. It’s over and we’ve got to be ready for next game.”
The Caps failed on two third-period power play tries and the Bolts sealed the deal with Dominic Moore’s empty-netter at 19:40 of the third.
“I thought the game plan we had gotten away from,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “But I thought we were in control of the game until the Downie goal and that gave them life.
“You can’t play river hockey. This wasn’t the way we play. It was reverting back to an older day.”
“We got away from hanging onto the puck in the neutral zone,” says Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz. “We played into their hands not getting strong dumps and then they just turned around on odd-man rushes.”
Once the Lightning got the lead, they shut down the middle of the ice and the Caps had few quality scoring chances the rest of the way. Ovechkin fed linemate Nicklas Backstrom in front for a one-timer midway through the final frame, but the Caps’ center pushed it wide.
“They make it frustrating,” says Boudreau of the Lightning. “They just hang back. You’re trying to push, and they’re very good at it. That’s why when they got the lead against Pittsburgh they held onto it.”
Lead Lost – For the first time in half a dozen games in this postseason, the Caps surrendered a lead in a game.
“We had a lead and we didn’t play the kind of game we’re used to playing with a lead and it cost us tonight,” says Fehr. “I think we weren’t smart enough with our dumps. They were getting a lot of easy outs. We weren’t making it tough on our d-men at all. That’s going to have to change if we want to be successful.”
Tampa Bay is a much more difficult foe when it has a lead in the game.
“They really know how to shut teams down,” says Fehr. “They’ve been there before. They’ve got a pretty good trap going. That’s the style of game that frustrates teams. We can’t get sucked into that.”
Target Practice – The Caps had just five of their 28 shots on goal in the third period. Washington teed up 23 shots in the third, but had 14 shots blocked in the final frame, and also missed the net four times.
Ovechkin had two shots on goal for the game, but had seven shots blocked. Semin had two shots on goal and missed the net three times. Mike Green had three shots on goal, five shots blocked and one that missed.
Not So Special – Washington lost the special teams battle, going 0-for-5 with the extra man while the Lightning was 1-for-4 on its power play chances.
“We didn’t score goals, but I think we had chances,” says Ovechkin. “[Semin] hit the post in the first period. Power play is the key; they scored a [power play] goal, Stamkos scored a goal. I think we took too many bad penalties in the second period and it cost us the game. Especially when you get the lead, you can’t do it. We understand it, so it’s going to be a different game in the next one.”
Washington had five shots on goal during the 8:45 in which it enjoyed the man advantage, but the Lightning had as many shots on goal while shorthanded.
“I think we have to do a better job,” says Boudreau of his team’s work with the extra man. “We weren’t getting to any loose pucks once there was a shot and we weren’t shooting the puck which is what we were talking about; get the pucks on the net, crash the net and simplify the game. The first power play we had a really good chance but it took us a minute and 15 seconds to get even a shot on goal. I think we need to shoot more.”
With two third-period power play chances in a one-goal game, the Caps struggled with their entries and their decision-making. They were guilty of forcing shots that were easily blocked up high by Bolts defenders.
“A little bit of everything,” answers Fehr when asked about his team’s power play struggles. “I think we’re going to have to look at the video on that and change a few things.”
Men Down – The Lightning lost two players and the Caps one prior to the end of Friday’s game. Tampa Bay forward Simon Gagne fell awkwardly after a clean hit from Scott Hannan in the first period. Gagne stayed down for a couple minutes, and needed to be assisted off the ice. He skated just four shifts totaling 2:34.
Caps defenseman John Carlson left the game just after the 14-minute mark of the second. He was seen doubled over on the bench during the final television timeout of the frame. Carlson did not miss a game during the regular season.
“He’s day-to-day,” says Boudreau of Carlson. “I’m hoping he can go Sunday. But at the same time, when you lose John you lose pretty well half of your offensive defensemen, in him and Mike [Green]. The other guys are really good at defending, but they’re not known for their offensive prowess.”
“We miss him,” says Schultz of Carlson. “He’s a real key on the power play. He does a real good job of getting shots through. I’m sure he’ll rest up and be ready to go on Sunday.”
Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina left the game after a hit behind the net from Caps forward Jason Chimera late in the second period. Chimera was assessed a roughing call on the play, and the Lightning scored what proved to be the game-winning goal on the ensuing power play. Kubina did not return; he played just 9:13 on the night.
Shot Down – For the eighth time in as many games in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Lightning was outshot in the contest. The Caps owned a 28-24 advantage in shots on goal at game’s end.
By The Numbers – Caps defenseman Mike Green led all skaters on both sides with 27:05 in ice time. Brewer led the Bolts with 24:44 … Washington outhit Tampa Bay 28-19. Ovechkin, Matt Bradley and Green led the way with four hits each … Brewer and Mattias Ohlund led the Bolts with four blocked shots each … Eleven different Caps blocked at least one shot; the Capitals blocked 15 Bolts blasts on the night.
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 TBL
4 - 2 TBL
Delaying Game-Puck over glass
Delaying Game-Puck over glass
Holding the stick