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Game 3 Preview: The Penguins look to push a frustrated Caps team to the brink

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The Washington Capitals are down 0-2 and seem to have their finger on the panic button. Can the Penguins push them to the brink of ruin in tonight's Game 3? Or will the Caps stabilize and reduce the pressure on their season with a win.

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After a 6-2 loss to go down 0-2 in the series to their biggest boogeymen, the Washington Capitals are officially on the ropes. Puck Daddy summed it up well:

Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen was asked what the mood was inside the locker room after their soul-crushing Game 2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.">Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen was asked what the mood was inside the locker room after their soul-crushing Game 2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

"None of your business," was the terse reply.

Nicklas Backstrom, said in a closed-door, players-only meeting following the loss. "None of your business," he said.">Niskanen was asked what the veteran leaders, led by Nicklas Backstrom, said in a closed-door, players-only meeting following the loss. "None of your business," he said.

Oh, to have had an ear to the door on that meeting.

What’s left to say?

As we eluded here in the Game 2 recap, it can't be easy for the Caps to find answers against the Penguins right now. They've gone about things impressively but have been unable to beat Marc-Andre Fleury. Then, any seemingly any mistake or opening that Washington gives to Pittsburgh is turning up as goals against.

It's obviously impossible to quantify intangible items like momentum and psychology, but lest we forget players are human beings too. Forget the Pittsburgh series winning 8 of 9 series all-time against Washington, that's meaningless to the players, but the core of the Washington group knows that THEY have lost 6 of the last 8 playoff games to the Pens in the past 12 months. And they know this is their last best chance to finally make it over the mountain with this group that they have, and everything they're doing isn't working.

The great Capitals blogger The Peerless put the following in his conclusion of a Game 2 Recap:

This [Washington Capitals team] was the team built specifically to vanquish the Penguins. The Penguins were the team it seemed all of Capitals Nation wanted to play on the way to the Stanley Cup. Well, if it can be said that all roads to the Stanley Cup go through Pittsburgh for this franchise, the Caps have never found a way out of town to continue that journey. And if this team is different, really and truly different, they are now going to have to find in ample supply of the one thing that no team before them has evidenced in large supply – resolve. Without it, Caps fans might have seen their last game at Verizon Center this season. No one would have said that a week ago.

So what do you do when things look like they're slipping away? It's not an enviable position to be in, to say the least. Will the pressure on the Caps compound and crush them, as it seemed to have done at home in Game 2 as the Pens kept scoring goals and running away with the game? Or can the Caps find that resolve on the road and take their first lead in a game in the series and turn this game around?

It's going to be fascinating. The Penguins are obviously in an ideal position up 2 games to 0, yet it's still somewhat of a precarious one to be in. A Washington win in Game 3 could take a lot of pressure and stress off them and feed into better games. This effect was seen just last series when the Caps played Toronto. Down 2 games to 1, the Caps found a way in Game 4 to win, and then put up their strongest performances of the playoffs in Games 5+6, both wins.

By the same token though, the Caps certainly have to be in a very vulnerable position because a loss in Game 3 will obviously turn to frustration, doubts and maybe even resignation- the same type of feelings that seemed to be harbored as Game 2 went along.

The Capitals players and coaches have told anyone who would listen all season that their team was "different" this year and they just knew things would turn out differently. So far, that hasn't been the case, and they're running out of time. If things have a chance to be any different, Washington has to win and win tonight. Game 3 should be a fascinating crossroads of where this series goes.