Twenty four seconds. It’s a measure of time usually attributed to the NBA. It’s not long enough to generate that much heat in a microwave. Most U.S. Senators can barely clear their throats so quickly.
But 24 seconds is all it took to put the Capitals’ season on thin ice (pun intended) last night in Tampa.
After losing Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at home over the weekend, Washington fell behind again in Game 3 only to score three times in the second period to take a 3-2 lead.
The Caps still maintained that advantage with less than 15 minutes remaining, but then Lightning standout Steven Stamkos blasted a shot past Michal Neuvirth to tie the game. Those 24 seconds later, the puck was in the back of the Washington net again courtesy of former Pittsburgh Penguin Ryan Malone who had planted his big body in front of Neuvirth.
And now the Caps, who came into the series riding high after whipping the New York Rangers 4-1 in the Eastern quarters are in more trouble than a Republican running for office in the District.
Only three teams in NHL playoff history have rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. One was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who also dropped the first two games at home before rallying to stun the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals. The other two, the 1975 New York Islanders (over the Penguins) and last year’s Philadelphia Flyers (over the Boston Bruins) began their comebacks with Game 4 victories on home ice.
While the Caps are 9-8 all-time in the road in postseason and beat the Rangers in New York in Game 4 in double-overtime last month, they have faced an 0-3 deficit just three times and won only one of those Game 4’s. That was in 2000 at home against the Penguins before losing the series in Game 5 back in Pittsburgh.
But there are two rays of hope for Washington.
Just two years ago, 10 of these same Caps (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley, Mike Green, John Erskine and Jeff Schultz) skated in the comeback from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Rangers in the Eastern quarters.
And while Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson has been superb in this series, he was abysmal in the second of back-to-back games in January after being acquired from the Islanders on New Year’s Day. The 41-year-old allowed 10 goals in 85:51 while being drilled by Pittsburgh and Carolina. He hasn’t been in net on consecutive nights since.
Those facts aren’t much to go on, but they’re the best that Bruce Boudreau’s boys have.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.