TAMPA, Fla. -- There are few less inviting places than the locker room of a team down 3-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series.
There are brave faces and fearless talk, but everywhere is the feel of despair.
It was so Wednesday morning in the Washington Capitals' locker room even though there were only a handful of players available, given the team's 4-3 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning the previous night.
Captain Alex Ovechkin and many of the team's other veterans did not make themselves available, leaving only defenseman Karl Alzner and newcomers Scott Hannan and Marco Sturm to talk about their first elimination game since last season, when they lost Game 7 at home against Montreal in the first round.
One player who has an interesting perspective on the whole 3-0 dynamic is Sturm, who was with the Boston Bruins last spring. Sturm, who was injured, watched as the Bruins built a 3-0 series lead against Philadelphia before becoming only the third team in NHL history to blow that big a lead and lose in seven games.
"You've got to look at that it's been done before. It's not like in this series they've dominated us," Sturm said Wednesday morning. "We were in the whole game; we just didn't finish right or took a little break every game. I think there's always a chance, we just got to believe it."
It's not just the top players who need to be better, he said.
"Everyone, from the top guys to the fourth line, it's a group effort. That's why we won and were pretty good against the Rangers. We just didn't show it in this series yet," Sturm said. "Now, it's like Game 7 every night and we just got to go out there and give our best and play the same way that we did against the Rangers -- with desperation."
Not surprisingly, the Lightning said all the right things about their opponents emphasizing they were preparing for a battle in trying to close out the Caps.
"Like I said yesterday the illusion is that it's 3-0. Tonight it's 0-0," Lighting coach Guy Boucher said. "Everybody's ready for the toughest game of the series. This is a proud team with individuals that still want to win the series and so we're certainly not going to take that team lightly. Every game has been extremely close. It took everything out of us to win those game,s so therefore this one's going to be even tougher. It's going to be even more difficult for us to win the next one."
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said it's important to look not at the big picture but at the first step.
"You don't think of it as four, think of it as one," he said. "Four seems like a daunting task; one doesn't seem as daunting. Then, if you get successful, you just think of one more. I don't want it to become more than it is. We're all adults and know what the situation is. I mean, we don't have to wake up and go, 'Holy smokes, we've got to play better.' But I have addressed it this morning to everybody. And to the leaders particularly, but not individually, as a group."
Green: In or out?
We saw defenseman Mike Green walk into the rink this morning, and he seemed to be limping after suffering a lower-body injury in Game 3. He missed almost all of the third period of the 4-3 loss.
Boudreau would not say whether Green would be in the lineup for Game 4.
"I'm not going to talk too much about injuries today. We'll see who's out there tonight," Boudreau said.
The coach said he would not consider making a goaltending change even though he said after Game 3 that he thought Michal Neuvirth wasn't great on a couple of Lightning goals. Then, when asked this morning whether Neuvirth was going to start, Boudreau waffled.
"Maybe. I'm not going to talk about players," he said.
Better third-period play
One area the Caps must address is the team's play in the third period. The team has taken just five shots in the third period of each of the three games against the Lightning. In Game 3, the Caps blew a 3-2 lead, allowing two Tampa goals in 24 seconds, and lost for the first time this season when leading after two periods.
"Well, it seems to be a point of contention for us right now," Boudreau said. "It's something obviously that's a flag, and we have to change it."
Boudreau bristled when asked whether he thought his job was in jeopardy, given the 3-0 deficit.
"Listen, you guys have been asking me that. But what, is your job on the line? Well then, I don't know how to answer that," he said. "Stupid question. Stupid."