Game 1 was as easy as one, three, one for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Once the Bolts took a 3-2 lead late in the second period on the power play, they clamped down defensively, using their favorite 1-3-1 scheme to stifle Washington's snipers and eventually steal Game 1 by a score of 4-2.
How tight was the Lightning defense as the game wore on? The Capitals only managed to get five shots on goal in the third period.
Hold a high-powered offense like Washington to just five shots and you know you're doing something right.
"They make it frustrating," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game. "They just hang back and you're trying to push. They're very good at it. That's why when they get a lead, and when they got a lead against Pittsburgh, they hold onto it."
It took a while for Tampa to find its stride, however. Sure, the Bolts took a 1-0 lead just over two minutes into the first period, but Alex Semin evened it up two minutes later with a laser of a shot after a Lightning turnover in their own end. Eric Fehr added another early in the second to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.
But after that, it seemed as though the Bolts started to settle down and the Caps started to get sloppy. Were they just coincidences? Or did one lead to the other? Hard to tell, but by the end of the second period, Tampa took control.
"I think we played well the last 10 minutes of the first and the first 10 minutes of second," said Alex Ovechkin, who finished the game with just two shots and minus-1. "We didn't play our game. We played too cute. We took lots of penalties and that cost us."
It took a lucky bounce off a stick to get the Bolts' offense rolling late in the second, however.
A blind backhanded pass toward the slot by Steve Downie deflected off defenseman Scott Hannan's stick and past Michal Neuvirth to tie it at 2.
A few minutes later Steven Stamkos did some digging in the slot on the power play and shoveled the puck past Neuvirth to give Tampa a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Dominic Moore, who went to Harvard, added an empty netter with 40 seconds left to seal the deal.
For Boudreau, he saw some bad habits creeping back in to the Capitals' game.
"I thought the game plan we got away from, but I thought we were in control of the game until the Downie goal," he said. "You can't play river hockey. We were reverting back to an older day."
Yes, those bad habits -- like not crashing the net and not shooting on the power play -- returned as the game wore on.
But despite winning the game, Lightning coach Guy Boucher continued to harp about his team's role as an underdog in the series.
Woe is the Lightning. Who will think of the poor, defenseless Lightning?
Think we're kidding? Just listen to how Boucher reacted after the game -- and remember that his team actually won.
- "Obviously the first round gave us some tools to be calmer under pressure. But having said that, the team that we're playing is quite a hockey machine."
- "We're not kidding ourselves. They're going to score some goals on the power play in this series, for sure."
- "We're staying down to earth about this win. They're more powerful than us, and it's bound to show."
- "We won the game, but there's going to be a lot of work ahead. That team's going to be coming out flying next game."
While it sounded all like gloom and doom, Boucher does have some cause for concern. He lost both Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina in the game. And he played most of the game with 10 forwards. And he has to play back-to-back games on home ice for Games 3 and 4.
But still, the Bolts are much better than Boucher lets on. If there was any doubt about that heading into this series, Caps fans should doubt no more.
Game 2 will be played at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Verizon Center.