From the left side of the face-off circle, there was Lightning center Steven Stamkos, drifting around — ready to unleash the fury of his one-timer. On the right side was Nikita Kucherov, armed with just as an explosive of a shot.
When the Capitals are on the penalty kill, they face a true “pick your poison” type scenario.
Though the Lightning had success with their power play earlier in the series, it was overly pronounced in the Capitals’ 4-2 loss in Game 3. Stamkos and Kucherov each scored — blasting home one-timers that made for dazzling highlights.
Certainly, stopping the power play will be a priority for the Capitals before Thursday’s Game 4.
But that’s not the only concern.
For the first time since Game 5 of the Pittsburgh Penguins series, the Capitals failed to score the game’s first goal. They also had to chase the majority of the contest, something the Capitals have rarely had to do in the playoffs.
Tampa, too, had a better outcome at even strength, where they had scored just one goal prior to Game 3.
Despite the adjustments from Tampa, the Capitals are staying calm, still up 2-1 in the series.
“It’s a process,” coach Barry Trotz said. “If anybody thought Tampa Bay was going to get swept by the Washington Capitals, or vice versa, I don’t think anybody would say that. This is the playoffs … we’re in a good spot.”
Trotz said the Capitals needed a better investment after not matching the desperation of the Lightning, adding some of his players weren’t playing up to their usual standards.
As for the penalty kill, there’s a simple solution for the Capitals: stay out of the box.
Washington allowed six minor penalties —three on Lars Eller alone — and five of them resulted in a Tampa power play, where the Lightning scored twice.
“It’s obviously unacceptable to let in that many PP goals against our unit,” center Jay Beagle said. “It’s obviously huge to get a kill, it’s a momentum boost. We have to make sure we don’t accept it and strive to be better.”
The Lightning took away the center of the ice, committing to the forecheck. As a result, Washington was loose with the puck, coughing up turnovers and failing to generate odd-man rushes.
In general, Washington didn’t look like the same team that stole Games 1 and 2 in Tampa.
“We didn’t play as fast as we did the first couple of games,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “The reason for that is we were trying to force pucks through the middle. That was partly on us, but I think they forced us into some uncomfortable situations.”
So the question becomes: how do the Capitals replicate their success on the road and carry it over to Capital One Arena? This postseason, Washington is 7-1 on the road versus 3-4 at home.
Trotz acknowledged they carry an “us against the world” edge in other arenas.
“We’re the team that lost,” Trotz said. “We’ve got to be desperate.”