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Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals talks to his players during a time out of a NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils on December 21, 2010 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images) (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals talks to his players during a time out of a NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils on December 21, 2010 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images) (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Boudreau, Caps on hot seat <br>in must-win Game 3</br> Add to ...

Down 2-0 and heading on the road isn't a great situation for any team in a best-of-seven series.

For the Washington Capitals, however, this is about as desperate as it gets.

Should they lose in Tampa tonight, the Caps will be down 0-3, essentially out of the series and there will likely be major changes coming in the near future. One of those could well be a new coach, with Bruce Boudreau potentially walking the plank less than three years after winning the Jack Adams.

Because for all of Washington's regular-season success the past few seasons, this group hasn't earned much of a reputation in the postseason and is still smarting from a first-round loss to the Montreal Canadiens last spring.

Capitals blog Japers' Rink has a great post today on just how big tonight is for the franchise:

"This team has won four-straight Southeast Division titles... and two playoff series during that span. Its coach has compiled an incredible 189-79-39 regular season record... but is 17-18 in the post-season and has dropped three Game 7's (on home ice, no less) in the past three years...

"Over at On Frozen Blog this morning, John Keeley referred to this as 'referendum hockey,' and it is most certainly that - a referendum on a coach, a system, a team's leadership and commitment, and that very team itself. In a salary-capped era, windows open and they close quicker than you might think. And every spring that ends in disappointment is one spring closer to the winter when you suddenly realize that the window has indeed slammed shut while you weren't looking."

Five Caps forwards and one defenceman (Scott Hannan) are pending UFAs, so there could be changes on that front, but a convincing loss to the Lightning may also mean changes to actual core of the team.

Obviously Alex Ovechkin's not going anywhere, but Boudreau could be, as could players like Alex Semin or Mike Green, who has become a goat at times while playing the most minutes on this team.

Washington was incredibly successful in the second half of the season and in Round 1 against the New York Rangers playing a far more cautious system than they ever had previously, but you have to wonder if it may be too much to ask for a team to so dramatically alter its playing style and then beat a group as accustomed to its own style and well organized as Guy Boucher's Lightning are.

That's where the "referendum" part comes in. There was a lot of talk in the Jack Adams conversation late in the year with regards to Boudreau after he successfully navigated an ugly struggle with his team in the HBO spotlight and overhauled his approach to great effect.

It was a remarkable turnaround, one that likely deserved more attention leaguewide than it got, but all of that could all be for naught if they lose tonight. There's pressure to win in Washington these days - and win relatively soon - and with enough pressure comes the sort of blame that results in so many coaches getting fired in the NHL.

Expectations are different in every market, but they've been sky high now in D.C. for three straight years and come up painfully short. A loss in this series in four or five games would again qualify there.

So what are these Capitals made of? And how's all this for drama, especially given Games 3 and 4 are on the road and back-to-back?

"They're definitely not in a defeatist mood," Boudreau said of his team today. "It's more of an angry mood."

We'll see if that translates over to the ice.

 

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