As the jubilant sounds of the Lightning locker room echoed across the hall following a dramatic 3-2 overtime win on the road, the Washington Capitals sat in silence pondering a 2-0 series deficit.
There was no signs of panic, but what everyone was thinking was left unsaid; the Caps’ backs are against the wall.
“Sometimes you don’t need to say a whole lot. I think everybody gets it,” said Mike Knuble.
Scott Hannan certainly does.
“That’s what our plan is going to be — going in [to Tampa] and pulling off two games,” the defenseman said. “Whatever we’ve got to do.”
If the Capitals can win Game Three, all bets are off. Fatigue might play a factor in the Caps clawing their way back. Tampa Bay is coming off a seven game series and is currently in the middle of a stretch where they will play three games in four nights.
“It’s 2-0, big deal,” said Brooks Laich. “There’s still a lot of hockey left. We are by no means out of this. The guys aren’t down. We’re going to come back in Game Three.”
Laich also emphasized the importance of taking it one game at a time.
“It starts with one win,” he said. “Anything can happen in a series and if we win Tuesday, you go right back at it the next night. They have the momentum right now. That’s fine. We’re going to come back and try and take it on Tuesday.”
Despite Tampa’s commanding advantage in the series, the margin of victory has been razor-thin. Each game has been decided by one goal with the Lightning receiving a few lucky bounces. Some might attribute the losses to bad luck, but Laich refused to discredit the Lightning.
“Yeah they got [some breaks]. But you do the right things to get breaks,” he said.
The lucky bounce Sunday night came when Martin St. Louis threw a puck into the slot. Harmless enough until it caromed off Mike Green’s skate and into the net, giving the Lightning a 2-1 lead 7:35 into the third period.
Tampa Bay is at their best with a late-game lead and the Caps have yet to hold a third period advantage against them. Furthermore, they’ve trailed for all but 8:43 of third period play in this series. When the Caps have been able to penetrate the 1-3-1 forecheck — not a common occurrence — Tampa has kept them out of the slot and pinned to the boards.
While the Lightning have done a good job limiting the Caps chances especially on the power play, Guy Boucher continues to play mind games. He has repeatedly announced his team’s inferiority and even went so far as to call his penalty killing unit lucky after ending Game Two a perfect 6-6 against the Capitals power play.
Meanwhile the Lightning have a power-play goal in each of the two games and it’s been just enough.
“It’s pretty obvious [how important power play goals are] because they’ve chipped in one each night in these tight games,” said Knuble. “You get one on the power play that’s like a bonus. That was what propelled them today.”
Boucher has proven himself to be the hottest up-and-coming coach on the circuit, but Boudreau has been through this exact same predicament before. In 2009, the Capitals feel behind the Rangers 2-0 and then 3-1 before winning in seven games. Then, they took a 2-0 lead over the Penguins before losing to them in seven games.
In short, this series is far from over and the Capitals know it.
“It’s a long series. We’re not out of it yet. We’ve got to stay positive and keep moving forward,” said Jason Arnott.
And in the other locker room, St. Louis made sure his squad sobered up quickly after a big win.
“It means nothing. Tuesday means nothing,” he said. “It’s whoever wins four games, not two. Obviously we’re happy with the result, but we haven’t done anything yet.”