The Washington Capitals ran through the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in Games 1 and 2 on the road, but can they take a 3-0 stranglehold in the series at home in Game 3?
It’s almost been hard to believe what just happened in the first two games of this Eastern Conference Final in Tampa Bay. The Washington Capitals have absolutely torn the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning to shreds in almost every area, and they haven’t even had to play Nicklas Backstrom yet.
The Capitals took Game 1 4-2 after a dominant first 40 minutes, then ran the Lightning out of their own building in Game 2 with a 6-2 win to take a 2-0 series lead back to Washington for Games 3 and 4. Nobody, perhaps not even the Capitals themselves, saw anything like this coming before going to Washington.
The series is still far from over, but Tampa Bay needs to figure something out fast, because the Capitals just slaughtered them twice in their own arena and now they have to play catch up on the road. This is the first time this postseason the Lightning have had to deal with adversity after running through the Devils and Bruins in the first two rounds, and they did not respond well to being shellacked in the second period of Game 2. Jon Cooper and the leaders of the locker room need to reign their guys in and get them ready for Game 3, because this will be a short series if they can’t.
In the first two games of the series, the Capitals have outscored the Lightning 8-1 in even strength play. Against the Boston Bruins last series, Tampa Bay locked down all the Bruins’ stars and didn’t allow a 5 on 5 goal after Game 2, which makes this domination from Washington all the more baffling. The Capitals are playing great defensive hockey, but the Lightning have allowed it to frustrate them instead of finding a solution. If they have any tricks up their sleeve to turn the tide, now is the time to use them.
As for Washington, this team is borderline unrecognizable in the way it’s been playing this postseason. For once, it’s not just Alex Ovechkin shouldering all the responsibilities while the rest of the team sits back and watches. On top of Ovechkin’s production, every single person has done their job to near perfection, and as a result all four forward lines have been producing at a torrent pace. The most unbelievable part? They don’t even have Backstrom back yet. The next man up, Lars Eller, has embraced replacing Backstrom as the defensive center and has tossed around Tampa Bay around at even strength. This team is on a mission, and they aren’t pulling any punches en route to their ultimate goal.
The difference will be if the Capitals get comfortable with this lead, or if they keep on digging. The second they let the Lightning get even a little bit of their confidence back, this is an entirely different series. They saw it for themselves when they were in the other corner in the first round against the Blue Jackets. While they weren’t dominated in the first two games, they still found themselves going on the road down 2-0 before winning out the rest of the way to take the series 4-2.
The Capitals are going to be returning home to the possibly the loudest crowd they have ever hosted. They slayed the defending champion Penguins, finally made it to the Conference Final after 20 years, and dominated the best team in the East on the road to take a 2-0 series lead. D.C sports as a whole hasn’t seen a run like this since 1998 when the Capitals went to the Stanley Cup Finals, and they are starving to see this incredible run continue into Game 3.
Usually in games like this, the motivational advantage goes to the team trailing in the series, but the way Tampa Bay has reacted to getting punched in the mouth has been concerning. You can feel the tension in every interview, and the fan base has already begun to call for some heads. The rest of this series will be a test of their mettle, but the Capitals are absolutely in their heads.
With the weight of the world off their shoulders and the confidence of their fans finally behind them, this Capitals team needs to keep on pushing. Tampa Bay needs to be the team that strikes first in Game 3 and get the crowd out of there, because they are in for another long night if they can’t.
With the amount of confidence and poise the Capitals have, it’s hard to imagine them letting an opportunity like this slip away. Game 3 will be a much closer game than the first two, but the Capitals power through for a late goal and an empty netter to seal, taking a 3-0 strangle hold on the series.
Game 3 Prediction: Capitals defeat Lightning 5-3