A team is not in trouble until it loses at home, or so goes the old playoff adage. But after Saturday night's loss 6-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of their best-of-seven series, the Capitals have lost two games at home and must now head to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday nights, respectively.
It's the first time this season the Caps have dropped consecutive home games, and it's also the first time they've gone two straight games at Verizon Center without owning a lead at any point of the contest.
Video: WSH Recap: Niskanen, Backstrom score in Game 2 loss
With Saturday's loss, the Caps must now win at least two games at Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena - where Washington has dropped six straight games - in order to win the series. The Caps must also win four of the next five games against the defending Stanley Cup champs in order to keep their season alive.
That probably qualifies as "trouble."
For the second time in as many games in this series, the Penguins put fewer shots (24) on the Washington net than they blocked (33) at the other end of the ice. And for the second time in this series, backup Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury outplayed 2016-17 Jennings Trophy winner Braden Holtby, who was pulled after permitting three goals on 14 shots in 40 minutes of work.
Video: Caps head coach Barry Trotz talks after Game 2
"We've got to find some goals for him, too" says Caps coach Barry Trotz of Holtby. "We can't just put it on Braden Holtby. We've got to find some goals in our room right now, and we haven't found enough."
That's absolutely true. The Caps have scored on 2.3 percent of their shot attempts in this series while Pittsburgh has cashed in on 9.3 of its shot tries.
"He's been our best player," says Penguins coach Mike Sullivan of his goaltender, who is now 6-1 in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs while subbing for the injured Matt Murray. "In the first series, in the first two games here, he has made timely saves for us, especially in that first period. I don't know what else I can say."
A dominant first period in which the Caps owned a 35-8 advantage in shot attempts, a 16-5 bulge in shots on goal, a 17-7 margin in hits and a 15-5 lead in face-off wins produced nothing in the way of red lights for Washington. Fleury was excellent, but the Caps' decision-making and patience could have been better, too.
Pittsburgh is nothing if not opportunistic. The Caps have spent much of the first 120 minutes of this series possessing the puck in the Penguins end of the ice, only to pound it right into Pittsburgh sticks and shin pads nearly as often as they've tested Fleury. Meanwhile, the patient Pens have merely waited for their opportunities, and more to the point, they've continuously cashed in on them.
Video: Penguins head coach talks after a 6-2 win in Game 2
The Caps didn't get any power plays in Thursday's 3-2 loss in Game 1, but they got the first four power plays on Saturday. Yet it was the Penguins who took the lead on the third of those Washington extra-man opportunities, taking a 1-0 lead in the early seconds of the middle period, just as they did two nights earlier.
In Thursday's series opener, the Pens blocked 29 shots. They blocked 33 in Game 2, and twice generated goals from blocked shots.
Ten seconds after winning an offensive-zone draw on the power play, the Caps found themselves down on the scoreboard. Pens center Matt Cullen blocked a Kevin Shattenkirk shot, tore off on a breakaway, drew a delayed penalty, and beat Holtby through the five-hole to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 1:15 of the second period.
The Caps bounced back and tied the game on the same power play, making it a 1-1 contest at 2:09 when Alex Ovechkin made a good feed to isolate Matt Niskanen for a weak side one-timer that beat Fleury from in tight.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Niskanen hammers one-timer for PPG
Pittsburgh regained the lead for good at 13:04 of the second, getting a Phil Kessel rush goal while drawing another delayed penalty. Sidney Crosby carried into Washington ice in a two-on-four situation, but too much of Washington's defensive attention went to Crosby, and not enough to Kessel. The latter's one-timer from the weak side went off Holtby's left shoulder and into the top shelf on the short side to make it a 2-1 game.
The Pens needed only about three minutes to add to that lead, getting another goal off a blocked shot in their own end. Crosby blocked a Justin Williams shot and pushed the puck ahead for linemate Jake Guentzel, who tore off on a two-on-one rush. Guentzel beat Holtby short side/glove side, giving the Pens three goals on just a dozen shots on net at that point of the evening.
"The playoffs are made of big moments," rues Holtby. "And on that third goal, that's a big moment. That's where your goalie needs to come up with a save, and I just didn't. So obviously I was frustrated I didn't do that."
Video: Caps players talk after a lopsided loss in Game 2
Trotz pulled Holtby in favor of Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third, but Shattenkirk's delay of game penalty led to a Kessel power-play goal at 2:19 to make it a 4-1 game.
Once again, the Caps showed life and responded quickly, making it a 4-2 game with 16:16 still left to play. Nicklas Backstrom put back the rebound of an Ovechkin shot off the rush to give Washington a slight glimmer of hope. But that lasted less than two minutes, until Evgeni Malkin tipped an Ian Cole point shot behind Grubauer to make it 5-2 at 5:31.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Backstrom cashes in on a rebound
Malkin's goal was initially waved off for goaltender interference on the ice, but the Pens issued a successful challenge to reverse the call.
The rest of the game was mostly garbage time, and Guentzel scored into a vacant Washington net at 19:17 to account for the 6-2 final, marking the first time the Capitals have surrendered six goals in a home playoff game since losing to the Penguins by the same score in the decisive Game 7 of the 2009 second-round series between the two teams.
"It's easy to get frustrated," says Caps blueliner Brooks Orpik, "Obviously we felt like we had a good first period and then we get a little impatient when we have a period like that and we have nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. Sometimes we deviate from our plan a little bit, and when you do that against this team, you give up odd-man rushes. That's what they live off of."
Video: ALL CAPS | April 29
While it's easy to get frustrated, the Caps can't afford frustration right now. They have yet to own a lead in this series, but they need Game 3 in the worst way.
"Let's call it what it is," says Trotz. "We dropped two games here. We're going to go [to Pittsburgh] to win two games there. I think that's an outstanding challenge to us."