Washington Capitals Now On Life Support As Only A Miracle Will Do

Steve O Speak

You have seen the commercials advertising the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on the Versus network. They show various moments throughout the history of the NHL playoffs of teams winning a playoff series or a game in that series.

They tell you the story of how improbable the win was or why this team made history in the particular series they are showing.

Following their 4-3 Game 3 loss in Tampa, the Washington Capitals need something, anything, so that “history can be made.”

Washington is looking for a hero.

Who on the Capitals will be Dave Roberts stealing second base in Game 4, in the bottom of the ninth inning of the ALCS? Which superstar will be Frank Reich coming off the bench to lead them to a victory after trailing 35-3 at the half?

It may be time to go back to being a southpaw. Yes, they say you must stick with what got you there, but if what got you there is no longer working? Then what?

In Rocky II (yes, I’m desperate), while training for the rematch with Apollo Creed, Micky asked his fighter—the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa, a born southpaw—to improve his right-handed punch in hopes of throwing Creed off his game in the rematch.

Apollo was indeed confused, similarly as we Caps fans were when the Capitals began to play defense as much as they did from mid-December on through the rest of the season.

The offense disappeared and the opposition could no longer score against Washington.

Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau said his team would be better for the change in the style of play come playoff time.

They would be a more rounded team in the spring and the adversity of losing and then learning how to win again in the new system would pay huge dividends come playoff time.

The Caps successfully stuck with their right hand for the final five months of the season and into Round 1 against the NY Rangers.

Despite scoring 99 fewer goals, Washington managed to win the Eastern Conference for the second straight year and scored a five-game knockout of the Blueshirts in the process.

Washington sacrificed offense and goal scorers like Alex Ovechkin sacrificed personal accomplishments. Everything was on track until they Caps were struck by Lightning.

In Round 2, the tables are now more than turned; they are upside down with the legs off, and now would be a real good time for Ovie and company to show what all of that adversity taught them during the transition period this past season.

It is the Tampa Bay Lightning frustrating the Capitals with a 1-3-1 defensive zone trap. Washington looks stymied, stonewalled and confused on the ice. The Capitals could not have picked a worse time to lose their first game in regulation this season when scoring three or more goals.

The Caps were 39-0-3 in the regular season when scoring three or more goals in a game and 2-0 so far this postseason.

It is the Lightning that is killing penalties like the Capitals did all season long. Sure, the Caps scored a power play goal tonight, but it took a two-man advantage to do so.

Boudreau needs to change something, anything at this point 

The Capitals have faced elimination after the first three games of a playoff series just three other times in franchise history. They were swept by the Boston Bruins in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals and won Game 4 before being knocked out in Game 5 by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2000.

Only seven teams in the history of the NHL have come back to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0 in the series. Only three actually won that Game 7.

Last year in the second round, the Philadelphia Flyers trailed the Boston Bruins 3-0 in games and after coming back to force a Game 7, trailed 3-0 in the first period before mounting what many consider the greatest seven-game comeback in the history of any sport.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks almost duplicated the feat in Round 1 this year against the Vancouver Canucks.

After coming back to tie the series, the Hawks lost in overtime of Game 7.

The Caps and Lightning are playing out a version of their own “Freaky Friday” role reversal in this series.

The Caps, who were 29-1-2 during the regular season when leading after two periods, surrendered not one, but two third period goals in Game 4 against Tampa.

The Lightning were one of the worst third-period teams in all of hockey this season. They were a minus-24 scoring just 64 goals (27th in league) while allowing 88 (fifth worst).

In the post season, Tampa is a plus-4 and the Caps are a minus-1 in the final stanza. In fact, the Bolts have scored the most goals of any team (12) in the final 20 minutes during the playoffs.

Michael Neuvirth, who stood on his head in the opening-round series against the Rangers, has now allowed three or more goals in his last three starts.

He has made many big saves but he has not been close to being as good as his “elder,” Dwayne Roloson, at the opposite end of the ice. The wrist shot that beat him for the tying goal was a shot Neuvirth should have had.

Granted, it came off the stick of sniper Steven Stamkos, but Neuvirth was not ready. The puck should have been cleared to begin with, but Eric Fehr could not execute the task.

Downie avgerages 11 minutes per game but leads Bolts in scoring in playoffs 

His defense, which protected him as if he was precious gold inside Fort Knox against the Rangers, again committed turnovers in their own zone leading to Tampa goals. Sloppy irresponsible play is the only way to describe the tying goal.

On the go-ahead goal, Karl Alzner was caught at his blue line trying to play (trying is the operative word) a loose puck and John Carlson simply got beaten to his own net by Ryan Malone for the tap in goal.

Sloppy and unacceptable is the best way to describe the entire scenario that was the third period. Tampa came back to outshoot Washington 15-5 in the final 20 minutes.

While the Capitals have no one to blame but each other, they can still give this the old college try. You know the cliché, one game at a time. That game had better be tomorrow night as this may actually be a big break for the Caps.

Back-to-back playoff games may favor Washington with a younger nucleus.

The Lightning were again outshot in the contest. Tampa has now been outshot in all 10 of its postseason games in 2011. The Bolts are 7-3 in those games, and have now won six straight playoff games.

They also own a seven-game postseason winning streak over the Capitals dating back to their 2003 series, in which the Caps won the first two games only to lose four straight.

Nothing to this point matters anymore, including how Washington got to this point or why the Caps cannot win consistently in the playoffs. All that matters now is that Caps must simply win one game.

We all know that Nicklas Backstrom has disappeared, their grinders are schooling our grinders, Dwayne Roloson is standing on his head and apparently Alex Ovechkin wanted to make sure he could not do that anymore by trying to chop it off.

We also know about the mental mistakes. How big was the too many men on the ice penalty that disallowed a Washington goal in Game 3?

What about the lack of an organized functioning power play and the simple fact that the Caps look like they are playing a game in January, with no sense of urgency?

The “if necessary” part of the playoff schedule is more than in the rear view mirror of the Washington Capitals express; it is driving the vehicle.

If the Caps lose tomorrow, the only thing that will be necessary is for the Caps to pack their bags and, here it comes, wait till next year.

Someone from the Washington corner had better tell the boys that it might be time to turn southpaw again, if just for a night. The Caps must change something because the game plan of playing better defensively in the playoffs is out the window right now.

Only goals will save the Capitals now. Michael Neuvirth may find himself out on an island tomorrow night and let us hope he can play it like Darrelle Revis, shutting the opposition down.

The Bjork look-a-like- may have to be prepared to face 40 shots and he may have to stop 37 or 38 of them in order for the Caps to win.

The Caps must pinch from the blue line, cheat down deep and everything else they did to score the most goals in the league last year.

Boudreau may even consider sitting Neuvirth in favor of Braden Holtby or Semyon Varlamov. Holtby did come up big for the Caps in a 2-1 shootout victory in relief of Neuvirth back in March against the Bolts and in Tampa.

Whatever happens tomorrow night, either the Capitals must be prepared to take the necessary steps and make the necessary changes to start to make history, or they will become a part of it.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have swept just one other team (Montreal Canadiens) in their franchise history.

How unlikely is it that the Caps can pull this off? Two hundred-eight teams have led an NHL playoff series 3-0. Two hundred-five of them have gone on to win the series. The time is now for someone in the corner to have the Caps switch back to southpaw.


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