So what can Ron Wilson do for a motivational speech now?

Known for his Rockne-like locker room talks, the Washington Capitals' coach will really have to come up with something stirring this time for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals on Tuesday night.Down 3-0, the Capitals are one game away from handing hockey's biggest team prize to the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

"We'll have to come out stronger in the first period," Wilson said Sunday during a practice at the Capitals' facility in nearby Oden-ton, Md.

Indeed. In reaching the Stanley Cup finals, the Capitals made it a habit of jumping to an early lead and putting their opponents in a tough position.

Guess what? That trend has reversed itself in the finals, where the Capitals have fallen behind in the first period of all three games with the Red Wings.

"It's tough to start down 1-0 and have to play catch-up hockey," Capitals forward Joe Juneau said. "We have to work very hard to get our goals (against Detroit)."

The telling statistic of the finals: The Red Wings have outshot the Cap-i-tals collectively in the first period 37-15, including 13-1 in Game 3 Saturday night, and outscored them 4-0.

Otherwise, the Capitals have outscored the Red Wings 6-5 in all the other periods, including one in overtime.

Juneau had a tough time explaining why, except to say, "Maybe some guys are not bringing their best to the table. I don't know whether it's pressure or fatigue."

Washington forward Brian Bellows thought the Capitals might have been squeezing their sticks a little hard in Game 3 Saturday night following a stunning 5-4 overtime loss in Detroit. The Capitals thought they should have won that second game, which they led by two goals with less than 12 minutes left.

"There was some carryover from the second game," Bellows said, "some doubts after Game 2. That really hit me hard. (The Red Wings) could sense that we were nervous in our own rink."

The Capitals face a daunting task. Only one team in NHL history - the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs - has come back to win the Stanley Cup after losing the first three games. A little bit of added irony not lost on Wilson: The Maple Leafs that year were playing the Detroit Red Wings.

"Hey, the 1942 Maple Leafs won after falling behind 3-0," Wilson said. "We just have to play better in the first period."

Detroit associate coach Dave Lewis can relate to how the Capitals might be feeling. He was on a New York Islanders team that overcame a 3-0 deficit against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the 1975 playoffs, the only other comeback from a 3-0 deficit in NHL playoff history.

"The hardest thing for a coach or player is to project four wins in his mind," Lewis said. "That is the most difficult thing: `How can we do it? How can it be done?' "

The Red Wings admittedly will have to guard against overconfidence as they shoot for their second straight sweep in the finals.


Additional Information

Stanley Cup Finals

Game 1

Detroit 2, Washington 1

Game 2

Detroit 5, Washington 4

Game 3

Detroit 2, Washington 1

Game 4: Tuesday, June 16

Detroit at Washington, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 5: Thursday, June 18

Washington at Detroit, 6 p.m.* (FOX)

Game 6: Saturday, June 20

Detroit at Washington, 6 p.m.* (ESPN)

Game 7: Tuesday, June 23

Washington at Detroit, 6 p.m.* (FOX)

*-if necessary