PITTSBURGH -- There was a palpable anger in the Washington Capitals locker room after their 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Monday.
That anger was not so much about losing the game and falling in a 2-1 hole in the best-of-7 series. The Capitals certainly weren't pleased with that either, but, in many ways, they played their best game of the series, outshooting the Penguins 49-23 and holding an 85-36 advantage in shot attempts.
So, they tipped their caps to Penguins goaltender Matt Murray and vowed to clean up some of their mistakes and come back even harder in Game 4 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The unhidden anger among the Capitals was over the late, high hit by Penguins defenseman Kris Letang on forward Marcus Johansson with 4:19 left in the first period. Johansson missed the remainder of the period but returned for the start of the second and played the rest of the game.
"Just some issues with my neck right now, but I passed all the other tests," Johansson said.
Video: Johansson on Letang hit, Caps talk Gm3 effort
For that, the Capitals were grateful, but not satisfied. Still fresh in their minds is the three-game suspension that defenseman Brooks Orpik received for his late, high hit on Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta in the first period of Game 2.
Although Orpik acknowledged Monday that it was "a bad hit" and called the suspension "fair," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he was "disappointed" in the length of Orpik's sentence, and it was still very much on his teammates' minds following the game -- and, it seemed at times, during it -- after Letang's hit on Johansson.
Johansson was leaning forward as he entered the Penguins zone and his head snapped back after Letang stepped up to hit him.
"I didn't see him coming," Johansson said. "He came from the blind side. I just looked at [the video]. He obviously leaves his feet and hits me in the head. I guess that's the kind of plays you want out of the League. It doesn't look good."
Letang was called for interference on the play. The NHL's Department of Player Safety is reviewing the hit to determine whether it is reaches the level of supplemental discipline.
"We'll see how the League responds," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. "If it's fair, maybe he'll get three games. I don't know. It's not my call. It's not our call. Our job is to think about the next game."
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Ovi snipes one from above the circle
Trotz said, "We'll let the League handle it."
Letang was suspended one game by the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Tuesday.
At times during the game, however, the Capitals didn't appear content to "let the League handle it." Right wing Daniel Winnik whacked Letang in the right leg, earning a slashing penalty with 1:51 left in the first period that gave the Penguins a power play in a game they already led 2-0.
Capitals right wing Tom Wilson exchanged words with Letang right after that. In the second period, Johansson delivered a big hit on Letang in the left corner, and Nicklas Backstrom appeared to accidentally knee the Penguins defenseman in the back of the head while attempting to jump over him.
Letang heard it from the Capitals bench after he got up.
"They were saying I was staying down for no reason," Letang said. "Chirping happens."
It was understandable that the Capitals were angry with Letang.
"When you see one of your own players on the ground, it's going to upset you no matter what happens," Washington right wing Justin Williams said. "So, we're glad [Johansson] came back and played."
But they denied they got out of their game by trying to hit Letang more after that.
"We want to try to hit him all the time," Williams said. "He played 35 minutes [in Game 2]."
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Williams scores after Ovi hits post
Trotz thought the Capitals' response to Letang's hit was "great."
"I liked the way we responded," he said. "We didn't get out of our skin or anything like that. I thought we responded. We played the right way."
It wasn't until the third period, however, that the Capitals really got down to the business of trying to come back in this game. By then, they were losing 3-0.
A couple of bad bounces cost them on goals one minute apart from Patric Hornqvist and Tom Kuhnhackl in the first period. A bad turnover by defenseman Nate Schmidt, who was thrust into a bigger role in Oprik's absence, cost them on Carl Hagelin's goal that made it 3-0 with 4:57 left in the second.
The hole proved too much to overcome.
"I'm not taking anything away from them," Williams said. "They scored two goals in the first, but I thought we were playing a pretty reasonable game at that point, certainly, the [best] one we've played so far. But excuses are for losers, and we're not losers. We're going to try to be even better in Game 4 and improve our game."