Not even the most optimistic Lightning fan probably could have envisioned this scenario, but here it is: With a win tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning will eliminate the Washington Capitals, the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, in a four-game sweep and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Lightning took a 3-0 series lead with last night's 4-3 win, and now it's up to the Capitals to try and regroup in less than 24 hours and save their season. Tonight's game starts a little after 7:00pm, televised by Sun Sports and by the NHL Network for fans outside of the local viewing area.
There has been some recent success by teams that fell behind 3-0 in an NHL playoff series. The Chicago Blackhawks trailed the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 in the first round of this year's playoffs and extended the series all the way to overtime in Game 7. Last season, the Boston Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers, falling on home ice in Game 7. In 2008, the San Jose Sharks fell behind the Dallas Stars 3-0 in a second-round series and lasted until a fourth overtime in Game 6 before being eliminated. So even though the odds are overwhelmingly in Tampa Bay's favor, the series is certainly not over.
The question is how the Capitals will manage to pull it together. Mike Green left Game 3 with a "lower-body injury", believed to be some kind of leg injury, and his status for tonight's game is unclear as of this morning. Desperate to rally after the Lightning took the lead, the Capitals left their top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble on the ice for nearly 24 minutes apiece in the first game of a back-to-back. And instead of talking about adjustments, or how the team needs to play with urgency or desperation, or just that they need a win to gain a little bit of momentum, the team seems to be falling apart mentally. Alex Ovechkin is saying that he thinks the Capitals dominated the game, Bruce Boudreau is complaining about the Ryan Malone goal and another goal his team had taken away following a horrible too many men on the ice penalty, and even mild-mannered Mike Knuble is bemoaning the team's play in the third period.
Meanwhile, the Lightning aren't about to take their series lead for granted. Sean Bergenheim saw it almost as soon as the team returned to the locker room after winning Game 3:
"We were happy, but after a few minutes we were already back to that fact that we have a game (today). Everybody has done that, from the faces and the reactions I see here."
It looks like Tampa Bay will again be without forward Simon Gagne and defenseman Pavel Kubina, who have each missed the last two games. Before Tuesday's Game 3, Lightning coach Guy Boucher declared them both doubtful for Game 4, although they may return if the series continues through the weekend. But the Lightning would like to finish this series tonight, eliminate their division rivals, and earn what could be as many as nine days of rest before traveling to either Boston or Philadelphia to start the conference finals.