After losing the first two games of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps have little margin for error the rest of the way if they're going to be able to navigate their way through this series against the defending champs.
Down 2-0 in the series heading into their first road game of the set, the Caps are in a virtual must-win situation as they prepare for Game 3. Washington was able to turn the tide in the middle of its first-round series against Toronto, and the Caps will now try to do the same against the Penguins.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | May 1
"When there is adversity, you look back at other times where you went through it and overcame it," says Caps center Jay Beagle. "Obviously losing two games at home is not what we wanted to do. It's in the past now and we look to Game 3 and we just have to make sure that we're playing committed and desperate, and we build off how our first period was in Game 2.
The Caps owned a 35-8 lead in shot attempts, a 16-5 lead in shots on net, a 15-5 advantage in face-off wins and a 17-7 lead in hits in the first period of Saturday's Game 2 in Washington. But all that got the Capitals was a scoreless draw after 20 minutes.
"We've got to play like that for a full 60 [minutes]," says Beagle, "try and grind them out and go after them for the full 60. When we play like that, we're a confident team and we also control the play a lot of the time. You've got to figure out what works against certain teams, and we adjusted to Toronto. Now we've got to adjust our play a little bit to our opponent in [Pittsburgh]."
Video: Caps players talk to the media before Game 3
The first period has been scoreless in each of the first two games of this series, but Pittsburgh has jumped out to a lead before the two-minute mark of the second period in both contests. Although the Caps rebounded to tie both games at some point thereafter, they still have not led at any point of this series.
Seven games into the postseason, the Pens have scored at least three goals in all seven games this spring. No team has managed to limit the Pens to two or fewer since the Rangers did so in Pittsburgh's regular season finale. Including the final half dozen games of the regular season, the Pens have scored at least three goals in 12 of their last 13 games.
The Caps couldn't stem the Penguins' attack on home ice, and now they'll try to do so here in Pittsburgh.
"I think we're comfortable either or," says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, of playing at home or on the road. "I think it benefits us a bit on the road because we simplify a little bit more. We're not trying to impress anyone, we're just trying to win a game. And that's our mindset going into today. No matter what way we get it done, we have to get it done. It doesn't have to be pretty. It has to be a collective effort from every one of us, with more commitment from every one of us. And if we do that, we'll be successful."
Video: Caps goalie Braden Holtby on starting Game 3
Flawed At Fives - During the 2016-17 regular season, the Caps permitted a total of 113 five-on-five goals, the fewest in the league and the lowest total of any NHL team in three seasons. But here in the postseason, the Caps have surrendered 18 five-on-five tallies in eight games, most in the league during the playoffs and most per game among the remaining teams in the playoffs.
"It's unacceptable," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "You have that structure all year and you work on that structure all year to build your game for the playoffs. We were confident with our game going in, but we haven't done a good enough job in front of [Holtby] and we haven't done a good enough job at five-on-five.
"We know what gets us success. We know how we should play against a team like this. We've got to stay focused and play a full 60 minutes because they have enough talent that if they get 30 seconds here and 30 seconds there, they can make it count."
"In the playoffs, you get some weird bounces," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "I know even in the Toronto series, pucks were finding the back of the net a little bit easier.
"I can look at our series, and we've given up a few too many odd-man rushes. Both sides have, I'm sure [Pens coach Mike Sullivan] would say the same thing. So those are areas we can clean up."
Video: Coach Trotz on tonight's pivotal Game 3 in Pittsburgh
Getting Them Through - Washington has rolled up 171 shot attempts to just 86 for Pittsburgh in the first two games of this series, but the Pens have scored nine times to just four for the Caps, and that's the only number that really matters at night's end.
The Caps have scored on just 2.3 percent of their shot attempts while the Pens have done so on 10.6 percent of theirs. Washington has had to work much harder to achieve much less through the first two games of the series, and the time has come for the Caps to work smarter at that end of the ice.
"That's an area we have to find ways around," says Caps center Lars Eller, "whether it's shooting for tips or shooting off the end boards or just moving past that guy. We have to find a way to get pucks through that layer, and at the same time get our own bodies in front of the net simultaneously. That's going to be a key area."
Washington's first line has generated a dozen shots on net - but none from right wing T.J. Oshie - in two games, but it has also had a dozen tries blocked and it has missed the net seven times. The Capitals' second line has generated 14 shots on net, but has had 15 tries blocked and has six misses. The third line has eight shots on goal, six that were blocked and eight that have missed.
Video: Alex Ovechkin meets the media before Game 3
Alex Ovechkin has gotten six of 20 shot tries (30 percent) on net, Justin Williams has had three of 11 on goal (27.3 percent) and Andre Burakovsky three of 13 (23.1 percent) thus far in the series.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen leads Washington with 10 shots on net in the series, and he has managed to get 10 of 12 (83.3 percent) of his shots on goal during the series against Pittsburgh.
"We're going to have to shoot the puck a little quicker," says Niskanen. "Just because you're getting some shots blocked doesn't mean you don't deliver the puck to the net. We've got to keep shooting, maybe shoot a little bit quicker, look for tips, shoot off the side of the net, whatever it takes. But you've got to have bodies and pucks going to the net."
Video: Rinkside Update: Matt Niskanen | May 1
In The Nets - Holtby was pulled after 40 minutes of play in Saturday's Game 2, marking the first time in 54 career postseason starts that he has been pulled. Holtby's .911 save pct. is tied for the lowest among the eight remaining starting netminders in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, and his 2.62 GAA ranks seventh among the eight remaining goaltenders.
Over the course of his NHL career, Holtby has had a history of performing well in the immediate aftermath of games in which he has been pulled for subpar performance. Lifetime in those situations, he is 16-7-0 with five shutouts, a 2.12 GAA and a .931 save pct. Holtby has surrendered two or fewer goals in 16 of his 23 starts following games in which he was pulled for performance reasons.
"I try and prepare the same way for every game," says Holtby. "Obviously when a game doesn't go your way, there are a few more areas you're a little more focused on. You zone in on it, you come to the rink and you're a little more ready to prepare with that competitive instinct.
"I don't look too much at patterns; I look at the day. I look at today as an opportunity to play more of my game, get back to my basics and to help this team."
Marc-Andre Fleury has been excellent for the Penguins this spring, winning six of seven starts and posting a .936 save pct. (third among remaining playoff goaltenders) and a 2.37 GAA (fifth among the remaining eight) in those seven starts. Fleury has stopped 67 of 71 shots he has faced in this series, and Pittsburgh has helped him out with a total of 62 blocked shots in the first two games of the series.
Fleury took over in the Pittsburgh crease when Matt Murray - who helped lead the Pens to their fourth Stanley Cup title last spring - came up lame during warm-ups before Game 1 of the team's first-round series against Columbus.
"We're not surprised," says Ovechkin of Fleury's play in this series. "He's a good goalie obviously, experienced, and he knows how to win. We just have to find a way."
"When a goalie is having good numbers," says Trotz, "you're going to say we're not doing enough. But he is playing well, and we've got to do more to make sure that he is not playing well."
Sullivan informed the media on Monday morning that Murray skated on his own ahead of Pittsburgh's morning skate and that he has been doing so occasionally. The next step for Murray is to take the ice in full equipment, says Sullivan.
Video: Penguins head coach Sullivan talks before Game 3
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals to look for Monday's Game 3 and a reminder of how the Penguins looked for Game 2 in Washington. Trotz says injured Caps defenseman Karl Alzner will take warm-ups before Monday's game and a two-fold decision will be made at that point: 1) whether or not Alzner will play and 2) if he does, whether Washington goes with the conventional six or the unconventional seven defensemen for tonight's game.
Pittsburgh conducted its Monday morning skate without a trio of regulars - forwards Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin and defenseman Brian Dumolin - and Sullivan says that the availability of those players for Monday's Game 3 will be a game-time decision.
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
65-Burakovsky, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 28-Carey
27-Alzner (upper body)
59-Guentzel, 87-Crosby, 72-Hornqvist
17-Rust, 71-Malkin, 43-Sheary
62-Hagelin, 13-Bonino, 81-Kessel
14-Kunitz, 7-Cullen, 34-Kuhnhackl
2-Ruhwedel (upper body)
30-Murray (lower body)
58-Letang (neck surgery)