April 29 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Game 2, Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round, Penguins lead, 1-0
Coming off a season in which they set a franchise record with 32 wins (32-7-2) on home ice, the Caps are now gearing up for their most important home game of the season to date, Saturday's Game 2 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Washington hasn't lost consecutive home games all season, and it can't afford to do so now, in the wake of Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 1 of the best-of-seven set. A loss on Saturday would send the Caps to Pittsburgh in a 2-0 hole in the series, ahead of Games 3 and 4 in the Steel City.
Video: ALL CAPS | April 28
Such a scenario would force the Caps to win at least two games in Pittsburgh to get through this series to the Eastern Conference final. That's a tall order, given that the Penguins have been every bit as good at home (31-6-4) as the Caps this season, and Pittsburgh has yet to lose at PPG Paints Arena (3-0) in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.
"We don't like being beat on home ice, so we've got to win the next one," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson.
Despite playing closer to their full capability as a team for more minutes in Thursday's game than they had in perhaps any of their six first-round games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps came out on the wrong end of the Game 1 result. Washington's 83-41 lead in shot attempts and 41-17 advantage in hits may be part of an overall toll that's taken over the course of what most expect will be a long series, but the Caps are down a game in the series and needing a win to keep the Penguins close.
Pens captain Sidney Crosby scored twice in a span of just 52 seconds during the first 64 seconds of the middle frame, putting the Caps in a sudden two-goal hole just after they held the Penguins without a shot on goal over the final 10 minutes of the first period.
"What I liked about our group was, it was 2-0 and there was no panic again," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "There was absolutely no panic and what you saw was us building momentum. I thought we generated enough chances to not only get it tied up, but maybe even go ahead."
Video: Coach Trotz on preparing for #CapsPens Game 2
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was excellent, stopping 33 of the 35 shots he faced, and his teammates chipped in with a total of 29 blocked shots.
For the Caps, the mantra for Game 2 is more of the same with a little more attention to puck management mixed in.
"[We did] a lot of good things," says Caps center Jay Beagle. "They're a great team, so they're going to capitalize on some mistakes.
"I left that game feeling pretty good, really. It was a good game and we were taking it to them. But at the end of the day, you need to win. It doesn't matter if you outplay a team or if you outshoot a team. It doesn't matter. If the score is 3-2 in their favor, you lost the game and you've got figure out a way to win that [next] game. That's what we have to do [Saturday]."
Washington went 12-5-1 on home ice during the 2016 portion of the 2016-17 season's slate, and it won 20 of 23 games (20-2-1) on Verizon Center ice after the calendar flipped to 2017. But in four homes games thus far in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Capitals are a pedestrian 2-2.
"I think for us it's about not getting frustrated when it's 0-0 and not getting away from our game," says Wilson. "You look at the last 10 minutes of the first period, we're taking it to them. We're all over them. We come out at the start of second and we tried some stuff that we hadn't done in the first period and all of a sudden, it's 2-0.
Video: Caps players rehash Game 1 and look toward Game 2
"That kind of two-shift mental lapse creates a bit of a hole for us. When it's 0-0 and we're playing our style of hockey, we don't need to get away from our game. We need to keep putting pucks in and we need to manage pucks and trust our structure, because we don't want to get into that high flip and offensive blueline-type game that Pittsburgh plays. It seems a little bit too familiar with how they've scored their goals. We're obviously going to focus on that and try to get that out of our game."
Pittsburgh showed no ill effects or rust from its one-week layoff between the end of the first and the beginning of the second round, but as is always the case - especially early in a series - both teams will have adjustments it will want to make ahead of Game 2.
"Washington is a real good hockey team," says Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. "They've got real good players and this is two good teams going at it. There are going to be times when they come at us and there are going to be times when we go at them. That's what we expect.
"It's our ability to push back when we lose momentum, it's our ability to make sure that we maintain the right focus and the discipline to stick with the game plan and not allow those momentum swings or surges to hurt us. I think that's going to help us to continue to have success. But certainly we could have done some things a little bit better, that maybe would have helped us with the pushback and that's something that we'll try to talk to our players about here in between Game 1 and Game 2."
Seven of the previous nine playoff series between these two teams have gone at least six games, and at this early juncture of this series, there is no reason to think this one will be any different.
"I think both teams have a lot of experience and they know that it's one game and you've got to turn the page and get ready for the next one," says Crosby. "Both teams will have the mentality that they want to improve after playing the first game and getting a feel for things out there. I think you've got to continue to get better and adjust. It gets more challenging with every game with the intensity getting ratcheted up. That's to be expected in Game 2, that both teams want to be better."
Always better. Even this late in the season, closing in on 100 games played since opening night, every team is still seeking to get better.
"We can be better," declares Trotz. "We can be better in a few areas. We're going to correct those and we're going to be better [Saturday]. That's the positive. The things that we can control, and we can do better and we intend to do that [Saturday]."