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Lightning take a shocking 3-0 series lead; Who’s to blame in Washington?

May 3, 2011, 10:07 PM EDT

malonewinsit AP

The Tampa Bay Lightning might just be the hottest team in hockey right now. They won their sixth consecutive playoff game thanks to another strong third period performance, leaving the favored Washington Capitals on the brink of elimination.

Tampa Bay 4, Washington 3; Lightning lead series 3-0.

Expect plenty of “Lightning strikes twice/thrice” type puns from this one, as the game turned on a dime in the final frame. The Capitals managed to take a 3-2 lead into the third period, but the Bolts scored two goals just 15 seconds apart to win Game 3.

It’s natural to fixate on the Capitals blame game, but let’s give Tampa Bay their much-deserved credit first. Sean Bergenheim continued his unexpected hot streak by scoring the game’s first goal. Alex Ovechkin should not be a scapegoat in Washington, as the spirited Russian set up Mike Knuble‘s 1-1 goal and also scored a goal. John Carlson made it 2-1 while Vincent Lecavalier is also red-hot lately, as he banged in a rebound to make it 2-2. Ovechkin pounced on a loose puck to give the Caps a 3-2 lead on the power play.

Tampa scores two goals in a stunning 15-second span

For yet another game, Ovechkin’s big goal wouldn’t be enough for a Capitals win. Steven Stamkos capitalized on a bad Eric Fehr turnover to fire an absolute laser to make it 3-3.

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Things went from troubling to downright heart-breaking when the Lightning took a lead thanks to Ryan Malone crashing the net. The puck went off of his skate, but it was ruled a good goal. That would ultimately be the game-winner in this contest.

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It might be easy to blame Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth and it’s true that he allowed a goal or two that he would like to have back. Still, the tough-to-rattle goalie made some huge saves to keep Washington in the game. Neuvirth stopped a Bergenheim shorthanded chance and nullified a horrific Nicklas Backstrom turnover to keep the deficit at 4-3, but the Capitals couldn’t pierce the Lightning defense again.

The Capitals three biggest scapegoats

Naturally, the next question is: who or what should get the blame? Here are my three potential choices.

1. Horrible third periods: If there’s one signature thread to the first three games of this series, it’s that the Lightning finished games stronger. They out-shot the Capitals 15-5 in Game 3’s final frame, winning that period 2-0. Washington carried much of the play in Game 2, but Tampa Bay turned it around in the third with a 11-5 shot deficit (both teams scored one goal in that third period). The Lightning didn’t out-shoot the Caps in Game 1’s third, but they limited Washington to a 5-4 shot advantage as they sat on their lead and also scored an empty-netter.

So, overall, the Bolts out-scored the Capitals 4-1 (counting an empty-netter) and doubled their shots (30-15) in three third periods.

2. Bruce Boudreau: Personally, I think the Capitals might make a mistake if they get rid of Bellicose Bruce. Still, in this media congested age, it’s easy to lose patience after a few disappointments. While I’m easier on him than most, it’s tough to deny that Guy Boucher is coming out on top. Here’s what Keith Jones and Mike Keenan said about Boudreau in the first intermission.

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3. Nicklas Backstrom:
For years, Backstrom was the one Capitals star who jived with casual and hardcore hockey fans alike. The sweet-passing Swede has zero goals and two assists in eight playoff games, which is far worse than any supposed  Alexander Semin and Ovechkin stink-bombs from past years. Maybe he’s playing through an injury, but the Caps simply need more from their less-renowned star.

Final conclusions

Ultimately, the Capitals hope to be the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit. They’ll need to shake off tonight’s loss quickly because the two teams will meet again tomorrow night.

The Lightning simply need to continue their trend of timely scoring, sufficient defense and strong goaltending. Tampa Bay’s big three forwards Martin St. Louis, Lecavalier and Stamkos are coming up huge and support players like Dominic Moore and Bergenheim are playing over their heads. It wasn’t Roloson’s best game, but maybe that’s because he set the bar so high.

Boucher said he was happy Game 2 didn’t go too deep into overtime after his team slugged it out in a seven game series in the first round, so an early second round sweep would do wonders if the squad is truly tired.

  1. quixotissimo - May 4, 2011 at 1:13 AM

    Who’s to blame?

    The buck should stop at the top. And by the top I mean their ownership. Leonsis (even though any town would be lucky to have a guy like him as an owner) is too much of a fan for too young of a team. They have no veteran leadership, Leonsis probably leaned on the staff to make Ovechkin the captain before he was ready. That’s not a slight to AO either, he’s the best offensive force in the game, but he’s too immature (I mean, look at him, he’s the same age as me and I don’t know who the hell I am, and I have no idea what kind of trouble I’d get into if I had six and seven figures in my bank account, plus his parents always around like they’re guarding their investment) at his young age to lead a dressing room of men. He’s a more of a ‘lead-by-example’ type and the current coach, who would probably work wonders with a more veteran team, can’t get their attention for long enough to convince them to play defense.

    The Caps have all the pieces in place to be a perrenial cup condender for the next decade, unfortunately for them their business savvy but hockey-ignorant owner is stunting their development.

    A Fan from a Fellow Southeastern Division rival.

  2. rave7215 - May 4, 2011 at 1:50 AM

    Pens without Crosby and Malkin are still > Washington. Good for Tampa, I hope they sweep

  3. bcjim - May 4, 2011 at 6:00 AM

    Its called hockey. Playoff teams, particularly by Rd 2 are typically evenly matched, either team can win. The Caps have frankly dominated long stretches of play in this series. They have also made stupid errors leading to soft goals. TB has buried their opportunities,,and here we are.

  4. svallen - May 4, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    Apparently all the hard work the Capitals have put in during the regular season to prevent a downfall as we are seeing now is almost a complete waste. The Capitals are being out played and out coached. The Lightning have seem to be firing on all cylinders right now, and the Capitals aren’t able to pull out a win. If the Capitals lose this series, especially a sweep I think Bruce will be ousted as coach. Is he the reason for the fall during the playoffs? I’m not entirely sure.

    The Capitals surprisingly made the top seed in East even with their massive losing streak during the season. When/If they lose this series they will have to take a hard deep look at the free agents (Semin, Arnott, Laich to name a few) and determine which players will help give the most impact in the near future – waiting until the trade deadline to grab a “last minute” help every season obviously isn’t working.

    Sources for free agents:

  5. tomahawk12 - May 4, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    Put a fork in them……

  6. jkay123 - May 4, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    This team has zero identity. The series vs the rangers could have went either way, 2 OT wins, and also 2 comeback wins. Watching this series and any other series in the playoffs, just led me to believe the rangers offense is absolutely atrocious, and were without their best skater. Caps were going against a bunch of kids in round one with no experience but with great goaltending, and everyone jumped on their ship about how good they are on defense and the new system. it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the rangers lack of offense, injuries and youth. They didnt show me a thing in round 1 and really didnt show me a thing in round 2. All this talk how we are a difft group, we play D, we would never blow leads, last yr was last yr..Same ish, difft stall. They need some sort of makeover. And I dont care for either pitt or wash, but ovechkin can’t shine crosby’s skates..period.

  7. jpelle82 - May 4, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    boudreau is to blame. boudreau had the opportunity to take the responsibility and be accountable as a coach by taking the blame for the “too many men” penalty and he decided to instead whine and blame the refs. typical boudreau…whine and run his mouth but not own up to anything. its his job behind the bench to manage his players…the responsibility rests solely on him. why is backstrom taking faceoffs in critical parts of the game (1 min left) when he had been proven a loser?…gordon was winning his and shows more grit. boudreau is not the same guy who came over from hershey, he has been beligerant, arrogant, and combative in the media. there is no accountability with his team. ovechkin is showing he has no confidence in his team mates…you can see the desperation every time he touches the puck. boudreau needs taken down a peg and the caps need a miracle

  8. kusheadpotman - May 4, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    WTF who is to blame? How about who’s to celebrate? Thanks for making it seem like the Capitols lost this game instead of the Lightning winning the game.

    P.S. ALL Your headlines about the Lighting have that same tone. We’re playing better, give us credit

    • ihateannouncers - May 4, 2011 at 2:49 PM

      ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!! They have killed 49 of 51 power plays (1 goal was 5 on 3), and oh by the way, Rolison is leading ALL goalies in playoff save percentage!!! How about some love PHT?? Maybe if they bring out the brooms against the caps they will get some respect.

      P.S. Fire Boudreau

      • kusheadpotman - May 5, 2011 at 6:08 PM

        It’s really amusing that I have a comment in another post that says “What went wrong for the Caps?” and I get flamed for making the same statement here.

        Maybe when we win the Stanley cup it will say “Lightning Wins.. lets finally recap all the things they did right!”

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