Lightning-Capitals Game 3: Nicklas Backstrom expected to miss fourth straight game


Evgeny Kuznetsov and the Capitals bring their 2-0 lead back to Washington. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Eastern Conference finals: Game 3

Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Series: Capitals lead 2-0

Tuesday, Capital One Arena, 8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN

• The Capitals will once again be without top center Nicklas Backstrom, who has a hand injury, but the team has continued winning without him. (Read more)

• Rookie Jakub Vrana’s play has continued to improve as the postseason has gone on. (Read more)

• Center Jay Beagle is “probably the most respected guy” in the Capitals’ locker room, and this could be a last run with Washington for the pending unrestricted free agent. (Read more)

Top story lines

Backstrom to miss fourth game: Backstrom was once again on the ice for morning skate, but he didn’t take rushes, and though Coach Barry Trotz didn’t rule him out for Tuesday night’s Game 3, he’s expected to miss a fourth straight playoff game because of a right-hand injury. The Capitals have won all three of the games he’s missed with the strong play of center Lars Eller, who has anchored wingers T.J. Oshie and Vrana. That could give Trotz some interesting lineup options for when Backstrom gets back, as he could have essentially two second lines. Trotz acknowledged that the team’s two-games-to-none series lead gives enables them to be even more patient with Backstrom’s recovery.

“We have a plan that hasn’t changed with Nicky for where he would go in,” Trotz said. “So when he’s in, he’ll be with — you’ll see who he’s going to be with.”

2-0 lead: Teams are 39-2 when they’ve won the first two games of a conference final, and while the Capitals are obviously pleased with the cushion, they’ve also experienced how quickly a series can turn. Washington lost its first two home games against Columbus in the first round, but then the Capitals reeled off four straight wins. They expect the Lightning to make a similar push.

“We won Game 3 in overtime in Columbus,” Trotz said. “We lose that game, we’re down three [games]. It can change in a heartbeat. We’ve seen it ourselves and we’ve lived it. To me, that was the point where once we won that game, our game really settled down and we’ve been good ever since.”

• Starting strong: The Capitals have scored first in all but three games this postseason, and they’ve been able to get the first goal in both games against the Lightning. That’s caused Tampa Bay to play even more aggressively, enabling Washington to capitalize on mistakes and create more odd-man rushes. Especially in front of a home crowd that hasn’t seen the Capitals since they advanced to a conference final for the first time in 20 years, getting the first goal again would provide a boost.

“Unfortunately, we were in a situation where we thought we could extend the lead, we didn’t and they tied it, and now the game was back to being a little more of a chess match,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said. “One of the things for me is you have to make them play catch-up because when they do have the lead, they sit back. You have to go through four guys. They all can skate. They’re all angling. They’re all in lanes, and it just makes it tougher. When they don’t have the lead they’re a little bit more loose in the way they play. They don’t sit back as much. They’re not waiting for you to make a mistake because they’re trying to create offense themselves. If you want to have a chance to open things up for yourself, make sure you get the lead.”

Players to watch

Jakub Vrana: The rookie was scratched in Game 2 of the team’s first-round series against Columbus, but he’s settled in as the postseason has gone on. He has four points in the past four games, including the primary assist on Eller’s game-winning goal in Game 2.

“Obviously before playoffs, I kind of didn’t know what to expect,” Vrana said. “But I was just ready to get my first shift and kind of get the feeling and get a couple games. It’s still hockey. You go out there and systematically you know what you’re doing, and you just try to go and have some fun playing hockey. Yeah, it’s been fun so far.”

Steven Stamkos: The Lightning captain has just one even-strength point in the past seven games. Stamkos has 13 points in 12 games, but all but four of them have come on the power play. In order for Tampa’s struggling five-on-five to get better, Stamkos, who had 27 goals and 59 assists in the regular season, will need to do more.

“We’re going to make some adjustments and hopefully those adjustments work tonight and we come out — we don’t know what’s going to happen the first couple shifts, but we can’t stray from what our goal is, how we play, our style and our system,” Stamkos said. “So we’ll look to stay more consistent tonight.”

Cooper said on Tuesday morning that he thought if his team could tie up the special teams war with Washington than they would be in pretty good shape, but after tying it up in the series, it ended with the same results.

“We’ve got to be better on the 5-on-5 side of things,” Cooper said. “Boston was probably saying the same exact thing when they were playing us. We just have to be better in that area.”

Pregame reading

Immerse yourself in the Capitals’ postseason with The Post’s coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs:

In what could be his last run with Capitals, relentless Jay Beagle refuses to yield

Tony Kornheiser on the Capitals: ‘They’re going to win the Stanley Cup’

Between cancer treatments at the Mayo Clinic, Caps fan flies home to attend Game 3

Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny fined for cross-checking Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette

Caps fan’s viral selfie with Evgeny Kuznetsov was even more charming than it seemed

Caps are finally lucky and good in the playoffs

The Caps and Nats are rolling, and Barry Trotz and Dave Martinez can’t stop texting each other

What even is going on with the Washington Capitals?
Metro will stay open later for Caps-Lightning Game 3

The Lightning anticipated a better showing in Game 2. It got one from the Capitals.

These Stanley Cup playoffs have given the Capitals all they can handle. And they’ve handled it just fine.

Capitals-Lightning Game 2: Washington crushes Tampa, takes 2-0 series lead back to D.C.

Lars Eller steps out of injured Nicklas Backstrom’s shadow and into the spotlight

Capitals must take what they need from Game 1 vs. Lightning and throw away the rest

Lightning defenseman tried to copy Alex Ovechkin’s moves. Now he’s trying to stop them.

Barry Trotz is ‘optimistic’ Nicklas Backstrom will play in series vs. Lightning

‘D.C. needs this bad’: Pair of ex-Redskins attended Caps’ Game 1 win in Tampa

Lightning’s ineffective penalty kill proves a major problem against the Capitals

Capitals-Lightning Game 1: Washington strikes first, takes 1-0 series lead over Tampa

Suddenly, the Capitals are on the right side of a series of fortunate events

‘We are all about the Rangers South’: Capitals face familiar playoff foes in Tampa

Barry Trotz lacks a contract extension, but has perspective as Capitals pursue Stanley Cup

Capitals aren’t expected to beat the Lightning. That might be just what they need.

Michael Wilbon calls D.C. a ‘minor league sports town’ after Caps celebration. Deep sigh.

Do the Capitals look like a true Stanley Cup contender? (No.)

Brett Connolly missed a Stanley Cup run with Lightning. Now on Caps, he has his chance.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson tries to adapt his tactics after a suspension he still disputes

Lightning ticket restrictions could block the red for visiting Caps fans

For Washington sports teams and fans, a breakthrough, and maybe a new era

The Capitals could exploit the Lightning’s biggest statistical weakness

There’s a cursed Capitals puck buried beneath the Penguins’ arena. (Its powers are suspect.)

The Capitals finally beat the Penguins. They don’t want to stop there.

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime goal was eerily similar to Dale Hunter’s 30 years ago

Lightning presents Capitals with a foe even more daunting than the Penguins

On one play, Alex Ovechkin and the Caps exorcise decades of D.C. demons

Capitals’ win puts a dagger in the D.C. sports ‘curse’

This Capitals team could be different, because its path to get here was harder

How the Capitals improved their defensive play in time for the postseason

Washington’s expected lineup

Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky-Chandler Stephenson-Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby (starter)
Philipp Grubauer

Tampa Bay’s expected lineup

J.T. Miller-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan

Victor Hedman-Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh-Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn-Mikahil Sergachev

Andrei Vasilevskiy (starter)
Louis Domingue