Down 3-0 to the surging Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the stumbling Caps will try to stave off elimination in the best-of-seven series in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
"It's not over," the two-time NHL MVP declared after the Lightning scored twice in 24 seconds to rally past the top-seeded Capitals 4-3 in Game 3 Tuesday night. "They win three. We can win three."
Actually, it'll take four straight to survive.
That won't be easy the way goaltender Dwayne Roloson and the rest of the Lightning, winners of six straight after falling behind Pittsburgh 3-1 in the first round, are playing.
Roloson stopped 29 shots and Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone scored in the third period for Tampa Bay, which moved within a victory of its first trip to the conference finals since 2004 - the year the Lightning won their only Stanley Cup title.
Despite his team's commanding lead, All-Star Martin St. Louis said the Lightning are not in a position to relax.
"This team is a good team," St. Louis said of the reeling Capitals. "It's going to be hard to win four games."
Vincent Lecavalier and Sean Bergenheim also scored for the Lightning, who dominated the final period after watching the Capitals overcome a slow start with second-period goals by Mike Knuble, John Carlson and Ovechkin, whose fifth goal of the playoffs put Washington in control with a 3-2 lead.
The changed in an instant.
A bad clearing pass led to Stamkos' fourth goal of the playoffs. The sellout crowd of 20,613 had barely stopped celebrating when Malone - camped to the right of Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth - directed Nate Thompson's pass into the left corner of the net to put Tampa Bay ahead for good.
"I think we were waiting for things to happen in the second period, and our focus wasn't right," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We just got back and reloaded and came out the way we're supposed to play. We had a lot of enthusiasm - not being scared to lose, but being hungry to win."
The frustrated Capitals never recovered.
"They're uncanny when they want to get a goal. It's like they just snap their fingers or hit a button. They just dial it up," Knuble said. "You can see it's like they're flipping a switch. ... It leaves you flabbergasted. You don't know what to say about it."
"If you look at it, Malone is driving the net and he pushes our player into our goaltender, and he can't kick out his right leg to make the save," Boudreau said. "It's a no goal, no penalty call. It's one of the best referees in the league and I fully respect him, but I don't think it should have counted. That's my humble opinion."
The Capitals shut down Tampa Bay's power play for the first time in the series, however they also cost themselves a scoring opportunity of their own when an apparent power-play goal by Knuble was waved off in the first period because Washington had too many men on the ice.
Bergenheim scored a little over three minutes later, giving Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead. The Capitals rallied to lead twice, but the Lightning answered each time against Neivirth, who stopped 26 of 30 shots - 13 of them in the final period.
"I thought a couple of the goals he should have had, but at the same time, when they got the lead he kept us in the game," Boudreau said. "I think we, as a group, lost our composure there and had giveaways, and he was there to keep us involved in the game."
Ovechkin assisted on Washington's first goal, sending a nifty backhanded pass to Knuble from the left corner. He took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play, scoring on a rebound that put the Capitals up 3-2 late in the second.
But the Caps couldn't finish the job.
They were outshot 15-5 in the final 20 minutes, and had few scoring opportunities after Stamkos and Malone put Tampa Bay ahead.
"We made mistakes, and you just can't make mistakes on this club. ... We didn't play our way in the third period at all," Ovechkin said.
"We get up, and I think we think it's over and guys just relax a little bit. And then they just come," Washington forward Jason Arnott said. "In the playoffs, you've got to be focused and ready on every shift. If you're not, bad things happen. It's another learning experience for us."
NOTES: The Capitals are 1 for 16 on power-play opportunities in the series. Tampa Bay has successfully killed 49 of 51 penalties this postseason ... During the singing of the national anthem, blocks of fans passed a large American flag around a portion of the lower bowl of the arena. ... Tampa Bay LW Simon Gagne and D Pavel Kubina, both out because of undisclosed upper body injuries, won't play before Game 5 at the earliest or the opener of the conference finals.