That makes Game 3 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal series Tuesday night at St. Pete Times Forum the closest thing to a must-win endeavor there is without it officially being an elimination contest.
"This is a pivotal game for sure," forward Matt Bradley said. "I'm not saying we couldn't come back from 3-0, but we don't even want to have that in our minds. We want to win tonight and get back in this series. The further you dig your hole, the harder it is to get out. We are confident we can come back no matter what the games are, but we would like to win tonight because we need to start going back the other way."
Added captain Alex Ovechkin: "It is very important game for us. We don't want to give them 3-0 with the series. We want to come back home with two wins."
"It is very important game for us. We don't want to give them 3-0 with the series. We want to come back home with two wins." -- Alex Ovechkin
If that sounds familiar, it is because the Capitals were in a similar scenario last season. Washington dominated Montreal for long stretches in the opening round but only in Games 3 and 4 were the Capitals able to parlay that into comfortable results.
Near the end of the series it seemed like the harder the Capitals tried against Montreal and goaltender Jaroslav Halak, the more their control of the situation slipped away.
"You have to play with desperation but you also want to have composure as well," Bradley said. "If you're out there super-nervous and squeezing your stick, you might be working hard but probably not making the right decisions. You have to be out there working hard and still be able to make the right decisions to win games."
Just as it was a problem against the Canadiens, the power play continues to be a dominant storyline in this series. Tampa Bay has thwarted all 11 chances Washington has had with the extra man.
The Lightning have also scored a power-play goal in each of the games. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau tried several different combinations in Game 2, but the results did not follow.
"I thought we had a lot of good chances," forward Eric Fehr said. "We were able to get the pucks back on our dumps and we had a couple of good set-up plays. I think it is going to be important as they always say to shoot pucks and go to the net. [Tampa goalie Dwayne] Roloson is a little scrambly back there and hopefully we can find a rebound and put one in."
Added Boudreau: "There are a lot of things going good and I was just telling them [before the morning skate]. We haven't been scoring, but we've had some really good looks, we've had good chances, we got good zone time -- plenty of shots. We just got to find different ways to get around them and put it in the net."
The Capitals talked Tuesday morning about the importance of scoring the first goal, about playing with desperation, about shooting more, about not getting frustrated with Tampa Bay's style -- all valid focus points.
For the most part they deflected questions about the back-to-back scheduling quirk. The reason -- Game 3 is incredibly important at this stage and Game 4 is for another day (even if that day is Wednesday).
This isn't an elimination game for the Capitals, but the theme Tuesday morning was this -- it is pretty darn close.
"They're ready to play," Boudreau said. "I think one little tweak here and a break there and it would be a different series. They're ready to play -- they're definitely not in a defeatist mood, that's for sure. It's more of an angry mood."