NHL Playoff Game Night: 5/3/11 Capitals at Lightning

Belief is a powerful weapon, and right now it looks like the Lightning believe no team in the universe can beat them if they play their game.

WSH-3
TB-4

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-0

Dwayne Roloson allowed 3 goals on 32 shots for the victory. He was not as sharp as in Games 1 and 2, but he didn't have to be and he was solid. No complaints from me.

First Period
11:03 TB Bergenheim (5), Moore (4), Downie (8)

Second Period
00:59 WSH Knuble (2), Ovechkin (4)
07:58 WSH Carlson (1), Chimera (2), Johansson (4)
11:51 TB Lecavalier (5), St Louis (6), Purcell (8)
17:27 WSH Ovechkin (5), Semin (2), Green (5)(PP)

Third Period
05:23 TB Stamkos (4), Hedman (3)
05:47 TB Malone (2), Thompson (2), Hall (3)

Sean Bergenheim and Victor Hedman were the game's first and third stars.

I confess to getting a little more stayed, emotionally, when I watch games as I've grown older. I figure, since the lockout, I've probably watched 350-400 hockey games, including pretty much every Lightning game in that time. So it takes a lot to get me really fired up, because I have been a little desensitized to it all. But I tell you what: this is the most fired up I've been in 7 years, easily.

Tonight the Lightning didn't just beat the Capitals, they beat the officials too. "Blind rage" is probably the term that would best describe how I felt about the phantom hooking call they gave to Adam Hall that allowed the Caps the 5-on-3 that they used to take a 3-2 lead into the second intermission. When you consider that Marty St. Louis got smacked in the face with a stick in about the same situation in a close game in Game 2 and the refs put their whistles in their pockets, its even more of an outrage. If you're a conspiracy theorist, and you believe Gary Bettman and the NHL have a stake in keeping their marketing cow, Alexander Ovechkin, alive in this playoffs, the video tape of tonight's game might be Exhibit A. Ovechkin high sticks Dwayne Roloson in the throat at the start of the 3rd? No call. Ovechkin elbows Sean Bergenheim in the grill at the end of the 3rd with the extra attacker on and the game on the line? Again, no call.

This was one long, continuous outrage, for me, and yet the Lightning still managed to stay even keeled and win the game. And it was something a little different tonight: it was the kids. It was a great keep at the line by Victor Hedman and then a frickin' laser by Steven Stamkos to tie the game at 3-3. 24 seconds later the Caps were completely scrambled and Nate Thompson threw the puck at the net where Ryan Malone was charging the cage. 4-3 Lightning, and there was much chest pounding and yelling in my household. Folks, if the Caps couldn't beat the Lightning on home ice with huge shot and chance advantages in Game 1, and if they couldn't beat the Lightning with a zillion power play advantage on home ice in Game 2, and they couldn't beat the Lightning with the referees giving them a gift go-ahead goal and looking the other way at every Alexander Ovechkin infraction in Game 3, I don't see how the Caps have a prayer of winning Game 4.

That's dangerous talk, I know, but you could see the Caps coming completely unglued in the last 15 minutes of this game (and honestly, long before that). Their defensive zone coverage? Gone. Turnovers? All over the place. Ovechkin flat out cherry picking for breakaways and abandoning any pretense of playing defense? Yep. Bruce Boudreau's going to lose his job over this series, unless something miraculous happens, and he deserves it with how badly Guy Boucher has outcoached him in this series. The man still has not made any sort of successful adjustment to the 1-3-1, he's watched his team's system discipline completely break down, and he's lost control of his star player again. I could post several paragraphs about how disgusting the play of Alexander Ovechkin is, but I'll save that for, perhaps, tomorrow. Suffice it to say, I think the NHL needs to find a new poster child.

And, now? Finish them. There was some talk of playing Mike Smith tomorrow night in the back-to-back to allow your 41 year-old goaltender to rest, but I have a feeling Guy Boucher's not going to give the Caps anything like a life preserver. It's time to throw them an anchor. Their confidence is shattered. They're playing outside their team concept. The Lightning can't give them a cheap win and allow them to re-cultivate their belief. Finish them. One more great 60 minute effort to complete the masterpiece. It's a hockey Picasso. A Kandinsky. A Calder (Alexander, not Frank). That's right, I snuck some culture in on you tonight.

Lightning fans, be there and be loud for Game 4 to help make sure your hockey team finishes them.

Blair Jones has 2 hits in 5:59. I like how he's played in these games since he's gotten in the lineup. He plays a very nice meat and potatoes game. He takes the body, he throws the puck toward the net, and he dares to go in the high traffic areas. It wouldn't have shocked me if he had gotten a goal in Game 2, and he almost got one again tonight. He's been more effective than Dana Tyrell was, quite frankly, when Dana was in the lineup. I don't know if Blair is going to stick around this organization past this season, but I'm sure there are a few organizations who are looking at these past 2 games and seeing that there's some "there," there in Blair's game. I like it.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.