Too little, too late for Caps in pivotal Game 5 loss

Chris Russell
May 19, 2018 - 11:35 pm
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A horrible 20:33 turned into an ugly third straight loss, a 3-2 series deficit and less than 48 hours from a once-magical season possibly ending with a bitter and loud thud.

The Capitals almost came back. They almost won Game 5 in Tampa on Saturday night. They almost scored a third goal -- and, perhaps after, a fourth -- but they fell short.

They didn't lose this game because of Andrei Vasilevskiy. They didn't lose this game because of bounces or bad puck luck.

They lost this game because they played like they didn't give a ... well, you know the rest ... in the first period. Sorry, that's harsh, but the evidence was there to see.

They were completely dominated in the first 20 minutes in a pivotal Game 5 and the hole they dug for themselves was way too deep.

Washington was down 2-0, out-shot 13-4, and only had two shots on goal in the first 19 minutes of the period. They only had one shot from a forward (T.J. Oshie) in the stanza and took a bad penalty in the offensive zone, as Brett Connolly was trying to forecheck.

The only thing the Caps did right in that frame was kill off the Lighting's extra-man advantage, which they've struggled with the entire series.

They certainly appeared to get a bad non-call against them on Tampa Bay's second goal, as Dmitry Orlov was clearly tripped in the neutral zone, which fueled a break and led to a goal that Braden Holtby should have stopped. The shot by Ondrej Palat was through a partial screen by a Caps defender, who went down, but the screen was far enough away that Holtby had plenty of time and vision to see it. He didn't. It wasn't pretty.

To be fair, it could have been 3-0 or 4-0 if not for Holtby making some other big saves in the period, so perhaps those washed out the soft goal he allowed.

The Lightning scored :19 into the game on a turnover by Orlov at center ice and, combined with Evgeny Kuznetsov being "soft" on the puck along the boards, the Lightning were off to the races like Preakness winner Justify.

Cedric Paquette buried one past Holtby on a feed down the slot after Matt Niskanen and Orlov were out-muscled and worked for the puck in the Caps defensive zone.

As bad as the first period was for Washington, whatever Barry Trotz said to them in the locker room between periods didn't make any difference, as Anton Stralman drove around Niskanen and crashed towards the net, with Ryan Callahan banging the loose puck home over Holtby. That goal came :33 into the second, and for the second time in three games, Tampa had an insurmountable 3-0 lead.

The Caps got on the board and made things interesting, as Kuznetsov tipped home Niskanen’s patient shot from the point to make it 3-1, and Alex Ovechkin, who went the first 56-plus minutes without a shot on goal, scored his 11th goal of the playoffs with 1:36 remaining, on a blast and a six-on-five advantage after Holtby was pulled.

Washington had great chances from John Carlson late (twice) and Ovechkin hit the crossbar in the final minutes as well, but they came up short. They had other near-misses earlier in the game as Djoos hit the post and Smith-Pelly was denied a couple of times. But it was too little, too late.

The Caps had plenty of other chances on offense to shoot the puck, including in the waning seconds, and did not pull the trigger. It happens in almost every game because they are trying to set up the perfect play or shot. The philosophy does work, but it doesn't work with enough efficiency in my eyes and it never has.

The Lightning got the dirty goal they needed early in the second because they converted speed to power, and then grit, while the Caps were still busy looking for answers.

They better find them fast. Or their season could be over Monday night, and another offseason of major change will be straight ahead.

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