WASHINGTON - It is said that a two-goal edge is the most dangerous lead in hockey - and while that isn't really the case, it has been particularly troublesome for the Washington Capitals so far in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Enjoying a 2-0 third-period lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Thursday night, the Capitals watched as the Penguins stormed back with three goals in less than five minutes to steal the win, stun the sold-out Capital One Arena crowd, and snag home-ice advantage in the process.
This isn't a new problem for the Capitals, who have squandered a two-goal advantage four times so far this postseason. Two of those blown leads resulted in overtime losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and forced Washington to rally from a 2-0 series deficit to ultimately prevail in six games.
"To be honest, we handle it much better than we (handled) it against Columbus,” Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said after the game. “But you know, those three shifts, they score. I feel like they got momentum and then they score again and again. But then it's pretty tough to get that goal back.
"But the good thing is there's more games coming. We have to regroup, we have to re-focus and we have to play (the) second game."
The Capitals needed just 17 seconds to seize the lead on Kuznetsov's fifth goal of the postseason. And after Alex Ovechkin scored 28 seconds into the third period, Washington looked primed to take the opener - until those three fateful shifts led to their demise.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Patric Hornqvist responded less than three minutes after Ovechkin's tally, redirecting a point shot from the left circle. Sidney Crosby evened things less than two-and-a-half minutes later, and Jake Guentzel scored the eventual game-winner - on another deft deflection - at 7:48.
"Those three shifts changed the game, and it's again our third period," Kuznetsov said. "We have to be better over there."
When the question was posed to coach Barry Trotz postgame, he said he didn't think any of the games with blown leads had anything in common; more that it was a combination of not finishing on their chances - Ovechkin fanning on an open net in the first loomed large - and losing focus for just a few minutes late in the game that led to things getting out of control.
"We played pretty good," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "Pretty good. We gave up some good chances and Holts (Braden Holtby) was really good early. But we played a pretty good game. They scored on Crosby's three shifts in a row in the third period to win the game. Otherwise we played pretty good so I don't think you need to over-analyze that."
A short memory comes in handy in the playoffs, and the Capitals have already moved on from Game 1.
"It's all about the next game," Niskanen said. "We lost Game 1 last series and we had one heck of a response. That was probably one of our better games of the season, really. We'll look to do that again. You've got to have a short memory, boy. You can't dwell on things. Just get ready for the next game."