The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The saying in the ads goes, “History will be made,” but for the Washington Capitals the question is, “will history be repeated?” The Caps go into Game 3 tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning down two games to none, having lost both games at home. It is not unlike the situation the Caps faced two years ago, having dropped Games 1 and 2 to the New York Rangers at home. Then, like now, things looked bleak. More so then, because the Caps had never come back from an 0-2 deficit, not in four tries, never having so much as extended a series to a sixth game in any of the four instances.
But in 2009, the Caps went to Madison Square Garden down two games to none under similar circumstances as what face them now. They lost two one-goal games (Game 1 of the 2011 series being essentially a one-goal game, Tampa getting an empty netter late), an indication that there was not much difference between the teams. One of those games, like one of the game in the pair at Verizon Center this year, was settled in overtime. The Caps struggled to score (three goals in two games then, four in two games now). They were facing a goaltender who looked capable of stealing a series.
Then the Caps went on the road. Maybe there is something in that Game 3 from two years ago that can offer up some hints on what to look for as the Caps try to crawl back into the series…
Shoot early, shoot often…
Four shots on goal in the first 2:39, 14 in the first period of that 2009 Game 3 against the Rangers. The Caps actually did this in Games 1 and 2 (14 and 13 shots, respectively, in this first period of those games). But they did a better job of getting in close. In Games 1 and 2, shots came from an average of 36 feet and 40 feet in the first period, respectively. In Game 1, only three of 14 shots came from inside of 30 feet. In Game 2, it was better – seven of 13. But in Game 3, the Caps unleashed 14 shots at goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the first 12:30 of the game, those shots coming from an average of 23 feet – only two shots came from outside of 30 feet. More important, both goals the Caps scored in that period (both by Alexander Semin) came from inside of 20 feet. Shoot early, shoot often…and by all means, get shots on goal from in close.
Big time players play big…
The Young Guns – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green – were a combined 1-5-6, minus-1 in Games 1 and 2 of that Rangers series. Not bad, certainly, but not quite good enough, either, especially in Game 2 when the Caps were shutout (no points, minus-3). In Game 3, though, the four went a combined 2-6-8, plus-6. So far in the Tampa Bay series they are a combined 2-1-3, minus-4. The Caps have to get these guys going.
There is another thread of history that might have some bearing on this game. Three Capitals have some recent and vivid memories of losing Games 1 and 2, and coming back to win a series. Eleven months ago, Michal Neuvirth, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner skated for the Hershey Bears in the AHL Calder Cup final against the Texas Stars. The Stars shocked the Bears on Giant Center ice, 2-1, in Game 1 behind a 26-save performance by Matt Climie, a backup goaltender manning the nets because of an injury to Brent Krahn. Like the Caps in Game 1 of the Tampa Bay series, the Bears were rusty after a long layoff (12 days) after winning their previous round and looked it with only two shots on goal in the first period of that Game 1. They never got untracked.
Texas duplicated the feat in Game 2, winning by another one-goal margin, 4-3, getting the winner in the last minute. And at that point it looked bleak as the Bears headed south for the next three games (the AHL playing a 2-3-2 seven game format). It got worse at the start of Game 3 as Texas scored a power play, an even strength, and a shorthanded goal in the first period of the game to take a 3-1 lead and threaten to blow the Bears out of the building and the series. But Hershey crawled back into it with a pair of second period goals to tie the game, then three third period markers made the comeback complete in a 6-3 win.
The Bears ended up sweeping the Stars in Texas, punishing the Stars with their power play (4-for-12) and getting good goaltending from Neuvirth, who stopped 80 of the last 83 shots he saw (.964 save percentage) in the last eight periods plus overtime in Game 5 in Texas. What is more, in outscoring Texas by 11-3 in those last eight-plus periods in Texas, the Bears got production from the guys who had to produce. Alexandre Giroux had two goals and an two assists. Mathieu Perreault had a pair of goals and a pair of assists. John Carlson was 1-2-3. Keith Aucoin had a goal and four assists.
And that is what the Caps need now. We made a point of it before Game 2, and it is no less true now that the Caps are on the road down 0-2. The guys who are expected to produce offensively have to do just that. Two goals among the Young Guns (Ovechkin, Semin) in two games is probably not going to be enough. The Caps have to remember a little bit of their own history and rip a page out of the Hershey history book to scratch their way back into this series. They can do this…they have done this.
It can be done, just by winning one game at a time.
Caps 3 - Lightning 1
Programming Note: We are going to be away for a few days. You can catch up with the usual suspects by clicking on the links to the right. We hope to be back before the Caps head off to the third round.