After reaching the conference finals for the first time since the days of Petr Bondra and Olaf Kolzig, the Washington Capitals jumped out to a surprising 2-0 lead in the series over the Tampa Bay Lightning. 10 goals across games one and two gave Capitals fans hope that even better things were to come.
Now, after dropping three straight to the Lightning, the Capitals are on the brink of another playoff collapse. Is it all but over for the Capitals?
Ian Glendon: Unfortunately for Capitals fans, this series is over. Given how they started (10 goals in two games) it seemed like this year may be different for the Caps. Especially considering they overcame a 2-0 series deficit in the first round against the feisty Blue Jackets. However, a lot has changed since games one and two. For one, Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy has found his game. After allowing the aforementioned 10 goals in two games, Vasilevskiy has allowed just two goals in each of the past three games. All victories for the Lightning.
In addition, the Lightning offense has heated up over the past three games, notching 11 goals in the three wins. They have flourished from scoring from every line and it is something the Capitals are having a hard time combatting. Combined that with the play of Vasilevskiy, it seems as though the Capitals luck has run out. I expect the Lightning to close the series out in Washington on Monday night.
Mike D’Abate: Washington is down, but not out. The Caps can take some comfort in the fact that they haven’t lost four straight games all season. The Capitals have not been strangers to adversity. They have had to overcome significant roster turnover that led to a less-experienced lineup, uncertainty surrounding their head coach (who still doesn’t have a contract past this year,) a late-season goaltending controversy, a three-game suspension for forward Tom Wilson in the second round of the playoffs and, most recently, an injury to one of the team’s best players, center Nicklas Backstrom. There were bumps and growing pains, but the Capitals still found ways to win games.
They have proved that they can skate with the Lightning. The key is starting the game strong. With the exception of Game 4, the team that has scored first has won. They have done so by being able to dictate the style of play and bait the opponent into mistakes. When Washington held the lead, Tampa Bay had to play more aggressively and became more vulnerable to the Capitals getting odd-man rushes. The Lightning has been able to reverse that of late. If Washington can get back to basics, then they will be able to force a Game 7.
Benjamin Pagani: Yes, it’s over for the Capitals. Going up 2-0 in the series only to drop three straight? Sounds like the ghosts have kicked back into the minds of Barry Trotz and company. The Capitals have never been this far with this powered roster and since the second game of the series, they have been unable to compete at Tampa’s level. Despite getting the monkey off their back with the defeat of the Penguins, it seems like the moment may be too big for the Capitals who have scored just six goals in the past three games. This is after they exploded for 10 in games one and two in Tampa. Better luck next year.
J.W. Gravley: The Washington Capitals enter Game 6 with no momentum but a lot of heart. Ovechkin stated in a postgame presser that if “we believe in each other and we know what we are going to have to do,” after Game 3 loss to Tampa. Now the Caps are on the brink of an elimination, with the most crucial game of their season taking place on their ice, in their rink, in front of their fans. It is win or go home, there is no tomorrow if the Caps lose. However, even though the Caps are facing elimination and are on a three-game losing streak, fans should have faith as the Caps have not lost four in a row all season long.
Caps tough it out, win, 3-2
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Hunter Welcher: Yes, this series is over for the Capitals as the Lightning has shown their experience and playoff pedigree the last few games. Braden Holtby’s .889 save percentage in the series certainly doesn’t help. Especially when you take into account the play of his counterpart at the other end, Andrei Vasilveskiy who has rebounded from a rocky start to the series. The Capitals were able to score early in the series but have seen their offense go quiet over the span of the last three games. The bigger question may be whether or not this era of the Capitals is reaching the end.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Alex Ovechkin is not done. This past season was his second season in a row where he didn’t miss any games. He’s up to 1,117 games in the NHL, so he is starting to rack up the millage. He actually bounced back from last regular season, getting 18 more points this year. He has three more years on his contract, where he will probably either retire or start to sign one-year deals. Unless his production drops off a cliff in the next couple of seasons, Ovechkin is the least of the Caps’ worries.
The Capitals cannot really afford many huge free agents this coming offseason. According to Cap-friendly, they have about $8.5 million left in cap space before resigning anyone. They have 10 NHL contracts expiring this offseason, and nine more AHL contracts expiring. The Capitals only have nine NHL contracts that don’t expire in the next two years. This essentially guarantees that we won’t be seeing a Tavares-Ovechkin-Oshie line of death. They won’t have the cap space to sign the multiple pieces, like shutdown goaltending and a bit more NHL defensive depth, that they need in order to take that next step to the cup. The clock is ticking on the Ovechkin contract, and once it expires, the window is closed.
Kevin Gesterling: Yes, this series and the season for the Caps is over. The Lightning has the deeper lineup and they have been to a cup before as that experience is starting to show. So I think this combination is going to be the biggest factor. That and the fact that Andrei Vasilevskiy is vastly outplaying Caps netminder, Braden Holtby.
In addition, the Capitals do not have a good playoff track record to fall back on as this is the furthest they have gone in the Alex Ovechkin era. When it is all said and done, for the Capitals, the Eastern Conference Finals was a great step in their quest for a Stanley Cup. However, in the end, Tampa Bay is just too strong of an opponent.