|Seen Stamkos? The Capitals sure did.|
The Lightning got off to a good start, capitalizing on a bad early turnover to get a chance in front of the net' Michal Neuvirth had to do well to deny Ryan Malone. But the Bolts kept coming and kept dominating DC down low, and converted just 2:12 in when Sean Bergenheim buried a rebound to put the Caps in an early 1-0 hole. The Lightning were relentless and continued to force turnovers on the Caps, but Washington was finally able to get some momentum when Alexander Semin stole a puck at the attacking blue line and fired it through Dwayne Roloson's legs at 4:08 to equalize. The game then began to settle down a little as both teams aimed for more puck possession, but slowly the Caps were able to get some momentum and generate some chances. This momentum was killed at 10:28, however, when Jeff Schultz took a delay of game penalty to send DC to their first kill. The explosive Lightning power play got some solid chances early but could not convert on the equally excellent Washington penalty killers. Brooks Laich appeared to have given the Caps the lead with 6:26 left, but it was reviewed and then overturned; Laich had clearly kicked the puck in. Washington got their first power play at 14:32 however when Steve Downie was sent off for elbowing. The power play got good zone time early but passed too much and could not generate a goal. As soon as the power play expired, though, the Caps got another one when Brett Clark was called for delay of game. This power play was brutal, with Washington getting no flow or zone time early and then giving up a shorthanded chance that was bailed out by Neuvirth. Tampa Bay came hard as the period expired, but could not capitalize and the period ended tied at 1.
The Caps came out hard to start the second period, getting an opportunity from their top line, but Roloson was able to get across in time to deny Ovechkin. After an offensive zone faceoff, however, Jason Chimera collected a loose puck and dished in front to Eric Fehr, who roofed one for a 2-1 DC lead at 1:51. The Lightning came hard after the goal with a push of their own, and Michal Neuvirth had to make a great glove save on Ryan Malone to prevent an equalizer following a neutral zone turnover. Tampa continued to press however and got a power play at 6:38 when Boyd Gordon was given the gate for slashing. The man advantage saw a number of chances, most notably a point blank chance for Vinny Lecavlier, but Neuvirth was able to shut the door and kill it off. Washington then got a golden chance off a rush with 10 minutes remaining, but the puck somehow stayed out despite a mad scramble in front that had Roloson down and out. Soon after, however, Matt Hendricks was called for interference at 12:06 which gave the Bolts their third man advantage. The Caps were able to counter the power play admirably and drew a call on the Lightning at 12:51, resulting of 4 on 4 play, but the penalties expired without incident. After a poor line change, however, the Lightning broke in and Steve Downie chipped a puck past Neuvirth at 16:17 to equalize, killing all of the DC momentum. Jason Chimera was then called for roughing at 18:00, giving Tampa a critical late man advantage. Steven Stamkos then finally potted a goal on the power play, giving the Bolts the lead with 40 seconds to play in the period. The frame closed with the Lightning up 3-2.
To open the third period, the Caps got a great chance early when Marco Sturm was set up with a golden chance in front but his slapshot went right into the glove of Roloson. Washington slowly tried to get momentum and build offensive energy as the early stages of the period continued, but the Tampa defense and Roloson continued to find their groove, frustrating the Caps' forwards. At 5:58, however, the Caps were awarded a power play when Brett Clark was boxed for holding the stick. The man advantage was fruitless, however; the Caps got almost no zone time or chances as they were doomed by awful decision making. Clearly beginning to get desperate as the clock started to put pressure on them, Washington got a few good chances but simply could not finish what they got, the same story as the earlier parts of the game. Inside 10 minutes remaining, Tampa Bay came back with a press of their own and almost scored but another timely save from Neuvirth kept the deficit at 1. The Caps got another power play with only 5:58 left when Teddy Purcell was called for hooking, and DC embarked on a critical power play. Again, however, the power play was brutal, getting minimal zone time and chances and being called for several offsides infractions. With four minutes remaining, the Caps went for their final push, throwing men forward as the clock ticked down. After Guy Boucher called his timeout with 2:08 left, the Caps got all their men forward in one last desperate gasp, but Dominic Moore put one in the empty net to seal game one for the Lightning.
This game was going very well for about the first 30 minutes. The Caps were able to get several chances after going up 2-1 early in the second period, but wasted them in spectacular fashion, and it came back to bite them in the end. The Lightning sure didn't look like the team that had just played a game seven. They won every battle, drew penalties effectively, and they deserved to win the game. The Caps also blew a chance late in the second to kill off a penalty and enter the third with momentum, as well as the fact that the Bolts were down a man and then two almost the entire game. They didn't. It's that simple. Nothing short of an embarrassing performance from Washington.
Michal Neuvirth is certainly not to blame for this loss, but he could have done better on both the second and third goals that he allowed which really broke the backs of the Caps. He has been brilliant so far in these playoffs and hopefully tonight was a minor blip, because the Caps absolutely need him at his best if they are to have any prayer of winning this series.
John Carlson is hurt, and it does not look good. The young defenseman appeared to injure himself late in the second period and headed down the tunnel with about a minute left in the period. After re-appearing to start the third, he only took two shifts the remainder of the game and was really laboring the entire time he was out there. He couldn't even climb over the boards to get onto the bench when he was coming off of the ice. Bruce Boudreau said postgame that Carlson is "day to day" and that he hopes to go Sunday, but from watching him, that does not look very likely. Ruh-roh.
The Caps will be back to the drawing board Saturday for a practice as they try and figure out what went wrong Friday. Game two, an absolute must-win, is Sunday night at Verizon.