PITTSBURGH -- It was a pretty upbeat and confident-sounding Washington Capitals team after practice on Tuesday. You wouldn't know they were down 2-1 in their series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And perhaps it's because they know how well they played in Game 3 despite losing 3-2, but if they continue to play like they did Monday night, this series will turn.
Five ways the Caps can even up this series on Wednesday in Game 4 (8 p.m. ET):
1. Take advantage of No. 58's absence: On a blue line that's thin when everyone is healthy, let alone with Olli Maatta injured, losing No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang to a one-game suspension is a huge blow for the Penguins. He is the key to how they transition out of their zone. He does it all for them back there. Look at Letang's two outlet passes on the two opening goals in Game 3. Nobody can replace Letang, who no doubt when it's revealed in June will have finished fourth or fifth in Norris Trophy voting. His absence will mean the Capitals' forecheck and cycle game will be able to have a bigger impact. Look for Pittsburgh to get bottled up in its zone for long stretches Wednesday night.
2. Build on the last four periods: Dating back to the beginning of the third period in Game 2, the Caps have outshot the Penguins 63-30 and have dominated zone time and puck possession. They know that. And they believe they'll pick up from there Wednesday night. "Our game was much better, was much more the game that we envisioned, the game that we play when we're more at our best," Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday about Game 3. "There's still some areas that we think we can get better at. I said this yesterday, but we lost Game 3 last year against the Islanders and sort of started building our game. We were down 2-1 in that series, just as we are here. Hopefully there's some good memories of that that we can carry forward. I think guys recognize how we have to play. ... I think the last four periods we've done a much better job."
3. Keep the PK sizzling: The Caps have shut down the Penguins' vaunted power play, and that has to continue to even this series. The Penguins are 0-for-10 in the series after going a ridiculous 8-for-21 against the New York Rangers in the opening round, tops in the NHL in the round. Caps penalty-killer Jay Beagle said Tuesday after practice that the Penguins' power play is a tremendous challenge to defend with its different looks, more than he sees from most teams. In these playoffs, the Caps' penalty kill is tops at an incredible 97 percent success rate, having killed 33 of 34 chances.
4. Stay out of the box: In a series that's had nasty moments, including two suspensions and a fine, keeping your emotions in check will be important. The Caps did a decent job of that in Game 3 given how angry they were at Letang's hit on Marcus Johansson (the hit later earned Letang a one-game suspension). "In the playoffs, everybody is playing with an edge," Trotz said. "I don't think you can watch any series and say that no one is. You've got to play between the whistles and stay in the moment so that you don't go over that edge. Sometimes it's a fine line. You have to make decisions, it's an emotional game, your reactions sometimes have consequences, sometimes they don't."
5. No. 8 needs to repeat his Game 3 performance: Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was unreal, especially in the third period, of Game 3, hitting every Penguins player in sight while also putting up a goal and an assist as he tried to will his team back. For the game, he was credited with nine shots on goal, 18 shot attempts and nine hits. If that version of Ovechkin shows up from the opening faceoff in Game 4, watch out. "The great thing is that there's one of them in this league, and we've got him," Trotz said. "He's very physical, he's a sniper, he's quick. You talk about skill, power and determination; all those things, he's got a lot of that. [Monday] night he showed why he's a force."