ARLINGTON, Va. — As Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau watched his team blow a one-goal lead in Friday's 4-2 loss to the Lightning, he believed it was "reverting back to an older day."
"You can't play river hockey," he said.
The Capitals used to do that. For the previous three seasons, Washington, sparked by stars Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, used a run-and-gun style to rack up a lot of goals and three Southeast Division titles.
But it didn't translate to postseason success. The Capitals advanced to the second round just once, and last year they blew a 3-1 series lead to the eighth-seeded Canadiens in being ousted in the first round.
So after a six-game losing streak in December, Boudreau charged the team with making a somewhat drastic change in style, to a more tight (playoff-type) and defensively aware mentality. The Capitals would, at times, dump the puck and chase. They would take fewer risks. They would be patient.
They ended up winning a lot more one-goal games.
"It was something we needed to do," left wing Jason Chimera said.
But as the Capitals took a 2-1 lead against the Lightning in Friday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Boudreau saw his team become a little more free-flowing, "wanting to make it 3-1 and 4-1 rather than just batten down the hatches and being patient for our opportunities to score."
Said Chimera, "I think (the Lightning plays) a frustrating style of game and guys get frustrated with it and try to do stuff on their own, which is never, ever a good thing. You've got to dump (the puck) in. If you can't get it, big deal. You can make them come all the way, and you've got to have patience.
"You can't try to force things, and when things aren't going your way, you've got to do stuff as a team, not do stuff as individuals out there."
Defenseman Karl Alzner said that is easier said than done, especially in front of a sold-out Verizon Center: "It's even tougher at home because the game we play would not be entertaining at all. And I'd feel bad for people watching the game because it's just boring. But at the same time, if that's the way we play, we have to all do that."
Veteran center Jason Arnott, acquired in February from the Devils, said players bought into the new system "slowly but surely."
"I think they just played that for a long time here, that type of run-and-gun game, and I think the crowd enjoyed it, the fans love it, but they just weren't winning doing it," he said. "If you look at all the winners in the Stanley Cup, you've got to play just as good defense as you do offensively to win it."