May 1 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Game 3, Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round, Penguins lead 2-0
Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2 of their best-of-seven, second-round set with Pittsburgh in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs puts the Capitals in an unenviable position. Down 2-0 in the series, the Caps must now win four of the next five games to keep their season going.
"They win two games in our building," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, who assisted on both Washington goals in Game 2 and has had a hand in three of the four goals his team has scored in the series. "So we just have to go up there and try to win the third one. The series goes to four [victories] and we move forward. Of course it's tough, but we're looking forward to [Game 3]."
First up on Washington's to-do list is winning just one game, and they'll have their next chance to do so on Monday in Game 3 of the series at Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena. Including last spring's Stanley Cup playoffs, the Caps have lost six straight games in Pittsburgh. Washington's last victory in the 'Burgh came on Dec. 14, 2015, a 4-1 victory in Mike Sullivan's debut behind the Pittsburgh bench.
Everything has been uphill for the Penguins since that night. They won a third Stanley Cup title last spring and have won six of seven games to start the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, despite playing without their No. 1 netminder (Matt Murray) and their top defenseman (Kris Letang) throughout the postseason to date.
After the Caps finished off first-round foe Toronto last Sunday, Caps coach Barry Trotz mentioned how he believed the adversity Washington encountered against the Maple Leafs had "hardened" his team. Given the new level of adversity the Caps are facing now, that hardening should come in handy.
Perhaps the worst thing to happen to the Capitals in their Game 2 loss was simply not finding the back of the net in the game's first 20 minutes. The Caps dominated the game's first period in every aspect, but when the teams went to their respective locker rooms for intermission, the game was scoreless.
Pittsburgh's penchant for and prowess at blocking shots and veteran Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury outdueling Caps goalie Braden Holtby are the two biggest factors in the Penguins' 2-0 series lead. In Game 1, the Pens blocked 29 Washington shots and needed only 21 shots of their own to record a 3-2 victory. Two nights later, the Pens blocked 33 shots and needed just 24 shots on goal to cruise to a 6-2 victory.
For the first time in 54 career Stanley Cup playoff starts, Holtby was pulled after permitting three goals on 14 shots in 40 minutes of work in Game 2. Last spring, Holtby surrendered two or fewer goals against in eight of his 12 starts in the postseason. This season, he has surrendered three or more goals in five of eight starts. The Penguins have reached Holtby for at least three goals in five of his last eight playoff starts against them.
Trotz confirmed on Sunday that Holtby would return to the crease for Monday's Game 3 in Pittsburgh.
"No question he is our goaltender," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We expect him to start [Monday]. I have a lot of confidence in him. He probably hasn't had his series to this point, but his body of work has been excellent. His mental toughness is excellent. I think he has the ability to park things. And he'll park it, and he'll be the difference in this series."
Video: Coach Trotz updates the media before Game 3
Even if he is at his best, Holtby needs some help. He's been hung out to dry on a number of Pittsburgh goals, and once again the Caps have managed just two goals worth of offensive support in each of the first two games of this series.
"I'd like to see us execute a little bit better," says Trotz. "Obviously we've got to find the back of the net. That's a combination of decision-making when we do have the puck. [The Penguins] are blocking a lot of shots; we've got to get our shots through and around the blocks. We've got to shoot it quicker, before they can get in those lanes. There are a number of things like that.
"And then we've got to finish. We've had some really good looks from what everybody calls 'the house,' but we've missed the net. We've got to make Marc-Andre Fleury make some saves. And we've got to make sure that we win our battles on the inside and see if we can create a little more chaos on maybe a second puck. We've got to get a dirty goal. If we're not getting it off the rush, then we've got to get a dirty goal. We need to find a way to manufacture an extra goal a game here."
The Caps need to exercise more patience make better shooting decisions and perhaps mix in a little bit of creativity to get pucks to scoring areas and behind Fleury. Just as sometimes teams must make two or three or more passes to exit the defensive of the ice cleanly, they sometimes must do the same at the opposite end, particularly when an opponent is paying the price to get in the shooting lanes to the extent Pittsburgh has done in the first two games.
"I think patience is something we've got to preach," says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik. "Whether you outplay a team for 55 minutes and still have nothing to show for it, I think you've got to have belief in what you're doing, that over the course of 60 minutes or overtimes that eventually you're going to get the result that you want."
The Pens only have half of the wins they need to win the series, but Monday's game is looming as the most important one of the Trotz era for the Capitals.
"Stay confident," says Orpik. "I think we've got to realize how we have success and then realize why we get into trouble against this team. You've got to look at the periods and the starts that we've had in both games and try to identify what we're doing well. Obviously we did a lot of things well in the first period, I just think we got a little impatient and frustrated that we had nothing to show for it but a 0-0 score. I think just sticking with that and staying the course will be a little lesson for us."
"You're never happy after a loss, but we have to regroup here," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "We're going to Pittsburgh and we're playing two games here. We've got to take it one game at a time, starting with Monday. We have to learn from this game and then we move on. We've got to be better. We've got to capitalize a little bit better."