Tie Game. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)
The Washington Capitals were leading the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-1 on Saturday night. They ended up winning 6-5 despite a pathetic third period collapse. Afterwards, the players were understandably upset, none moreso than Jason Chimera.
In response to an earnest question about how to mentally handle a late game blow up, Chimera got sassy.
“Sometimes you’re not your best at writing articles,” he said. “You gotta do better next game.”
After a quick back-and-forth, Chimera stormed off to the showers at Verizon Center. Ah, the joys of a winning locker room.
Chimera was not the only one pissed after Washington’s overtime victory. All the players were, as they should be. This is becoming a pattern. The Capitals have collapsed in the third period of their last two Saturday games. Playing in Sunrise, Washington went from 4-0 blowout to a narrow 4-3 victory. Most recently, the Caps let the Bolts score four unanswered goals before Mike Green put a stop to it with his power-play, overtime game-winning goal.
The Caps have lost three games when leading after two periods, second only to the Boston Bruins — and that doesn’t include their recent close calls against struggling teams.
“We kinda sit back,” Green said of the third period. “We have to keep playing the way we do, play for a full 60, and we’ll be successful.”
“It sucks,” he added. “We can’t play like that. I don’t know what to do. I’m not the guy to look for an answer.”
After last week’s late-game blowup, players in the locker room called it a learning experience: they would be sure not to take their metaphorical foot off the metaphorical gas again. But seven days later, the same thing happened again– the Caps sat back with a big lead and nearly lost. Washington is a better team than Tampa, and they dominated most of the game. From the 400 level at Verizon Center, it looked like the Caps took the game for granted — and the team admitted that.
“I guess there is no really easy explanation,” head coach Adam Oates told reporters. “You lose a little bit of momentum because it was a little too easy, you get a little flat, and all of a sudden here they come.”
“It’s human nature,” he added. “I don’t ever talk to them after a game, but I don’t want to say something you might regret later.”
Big leads are not a bad thing, but Oates is right, it can lull you to sleep. The Caps are still wildly better than they were at the start of the year (10-13-1 in the first half, 13-4-1 since), and they’ve won seven in a row. But I worry how this team will fare in the playoffs. They may get a favorable first-round match-up with the Leafs, Senators, or Islanders. Conventional wisdom may say the opening round would come easy for them — which is why I think it won’t. For all the changes over the past few seasons, the Capitals are still the Capitals; they can blow their opponents out of the water, but they can drown just as quickly.
“They used to call us the Cardiac Kids for a reason and we showed that tonight,” Green said. “We can’t let that happen.”