TAMPA, FL - MAY 03: The Washington Capitals watch the closing minute of play in their 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at St Pete Times Forum on May 3, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. The Lightning defeated the Capitals 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Sure, the Capitals didn't play their best game on Tuesday night in Game 3, but that's not why they're on the brink. The Lightning have simply imposed their will.
There's Guy Boucher, the rookie bench boss of the Lightning, talking about how his team is so good at coming back from the edge late in hockey games.
"I think everything's a habit, and we've made it a habit this year to believe that in third periods, we can make it happen. It's all in the mind."
Then, there's Mike Knuble of the Caps, a savvy veteran broken down to the point of confusion after the Lightning stunned his team into an 0-3 series hole.
"They're uncanny when they want to get a goal. It's like they just snap their fingers or hit a button. They just dial it up. You can see it's like flipping a switch, you know? It's like when they're down, then it's just like they know they're going to score. I don't know what it is. It leaves you flabbergasted. You don't know what you say about it. It's like they're snapping their fingers. I don't know what it is."
Knuble doesn't know what it is, but it's clear Boucher and the Bolts know exactly what it is. The Lightning simply believe in their ability. It's something that they pushed on the Capitals, not something the Capitals simply sat back and let happen.
This wasn't a third period meltdown by Alex Ovechkin and company. It was a "we're going to step up and steal this game" type of performance from the Bolts, who believe that no matter the hole, they can win the game. How else can you explain Knuble's confusion?
Sure, Washington did take the foot off the gas slightly at times in the game, but let's look at the actual goals. Steven Stamkos' tying goal came off a failed clearing attempt from Eric Fehr, but was it really Fehr's fault? Despite the fact that Boudreau kind of threw Fehr under bus, mentioning him by name in the post-game presser, he did everything he was supposed to do in that situation. Boudreau called it a "bad clearing." Hardly.
Receive the puck. Chip it high off the glass. Victor Hedman did a great job getting in the position to stop it from exiting the zone, and he dished it over to Stamkos, who well... what a shot. What else can Fehr do? Nothing at all.
And then there's the fourth Tampa goal -- the game-winner. Man, what an ugly goal. The puck gets chipped into the zone and Nate Thompson simply out-skates everybody, tosses it in front and a bizarre bounce off Ryan Malone, not one of the two Caps in front, stuns the team who just seconds earlier held a 3-2 lead. Now, a 4-3 deficit.
The blame from Boudreau is misplaced. The players are confused. Boucher's bunch is obviously in their heads. But the Tampa Bay Lightning aren't confused one bit. They imposed their will in the third period, and once they got that lead, they sure as hell weren't going to let the Capitals take it back.
It really has nothing to do with you, Washington. The Bolts are just coming out looking like the better team, and they deserve a ton of credit for making the plays necessary to win the games. As Boucher says, it's all in the mind.