- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

PITTSBURGH | He played little more than 18 minutes Wednesday night, but given the way the game went, Brian Pothier said it felt more like 25.

Pothier was not alone with his plight.

It was a long night for the Washington Capitals’ defense corps in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only did the Penguins outshoot the Caps 42-24, but they also dominated territorially in the final two periods and overtime.

“We were just being careless with the puck,” Pothier said. “There were a lot of opportunities to make simple plays and just be a lot more conservative and understand just how important it is to get the puck out of our zone, especially when they’re buzzing so much.

“We were careless with our turnovers. We just kept giving it to them, and on the back end by the end of the game the defensemen were pretty worn down after chasing all night.”

It was a monotonous cycle of offensive pressure the Caps could not break. The first problem after the Penguins would dump the puck into the Caps’ zone was Washington’s inability to get it out.

Whether it was poor judgment, missed connections or a lack of hustle, the Caps were forced to spend long stretches hemmed in their own end and trying to survive. If the Caps did eventually get it out, they were often tired and forced to head to the bench for a line change, which would allow the Penguins to collect the puck and start the process over again.

“If you continually don’t get it out, the momentum builds and a lot of times that’s when you get scored on,” defenseman Tyler Sloan said. “You get caught, and guys are tired and can’t get a change. The defensemen get caught, and in the second period that is a long change.”

If the Caps weren’t turning the puck over in their end, they were losing it in the neutral zone. Instead of returning the favor to the Penguins and sending the puck into the offensive zone and attempting to forecheck, Washington players reverted to attempting passes or trying to skate through defenders - something the skillful Caps tend to do when they struggle.

The result was more turnovers and more time for Pittsburgh to possess the puck.

“It is not normal for us, and we know we have to get better on it,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “Absolutely, if we are going to win games against Pittsburgh we’re going to have to get the puck deep and get to work.”

When the Caps are playing well, they are the ones who spend much of the game on offense and it is the opposition who tires from all the chasing and the forechecking by Washington forwards.

Before the Penguins replaced Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma behind the bench, Caps-Penguins games were often one-sided territorially in favor of Bruce Boudreau’s team. But that has changed since Bylsma brought his more aggressive philosophy to the Penguins.

“When we’re playing our game, it is ‘get it in deep and pound their [defensemen],’ but they really took it to us there in the second, and it really showed in the third and in overtime when our ‘D’ didn’t want to go back and get the puck,” center David Steckel said. “It isn’t just our turnovers - they were hungry, and they were in their barn. It was a must-win game for them, and they really took it to us.”

Added defenseman Mike Green: “We’re aware of what not to do now and how to play against these guys. We won the first two games for a reason. We played a simple game, and when you play like that you win.”

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