The wait is finally over for the Caps. The Washington Capitals will face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at 7 pm for game 1 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center. The Bolts rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins four games to three. Tampa won the last three games by 8-2, 4-2, and 1-0 counts with the game seven victory coming Wednesday night.
Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff will likely be working early into Thursday morning putting together a game plan for a team that his squad went 4-1-1 against in the regular season. Tampa is loaded up front with talented scorers Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, and Simon Gagne. They also get excellent role playing contributions from the speedy Nate Thompson and Sean Bergenheim plus Dominic Moore is an outstanding two player. Teddy Purcell and Adam Hall are solid third line players who can chip in with some scoring and rounding out their forward crew is the controverial and pesky Steve Downie, who can lose his mind at any time. #9 can also score when his head is screwed on straight, so in a way he is Sean Avery part two.
In net, the 41 year old Dwayne Roloson made 36 saves in game seven against the Pens and he is now 6-0 in elimination contests in his career. The Bolts are a very difficult team to play when they have the lead because they employ a 1-3-1 scheme that makes it very hard for opposing players to get the front of the net. The Lightning have a big defense, but it is not very mobile, so Coach Guy Boucher likes to use his sizable blue line as a pack it in tight unit that seeks to keep opposing players to the outside, much like the Montreal Canadiens did to the Capitals in 2010.
Tampa’s big but slow defense is led by Eric Brewer, who was an NHL trade deadline acquisition from St. Louis. In addition they have second year man Victor Headman, cheap shot specialist Mattias Ohlund, and journeyman Brett Clark. In game seven against the Penguins, Boucher dressed seven defensemen including Pavel Kubina, who has a laser of a right hand shot. Mike Lundin and Marc-Andre Bergeron rounded out the Bolts blue line. It is definitely not a puck rushing crew but they were effective against a less talented Pittsburgh attack that severely missed Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee).
For the Caps to be successful against Tampa, they need to use their superior speed to their advantage against the slower Tampa defense. In addition, the Capitals forwards will need to pay the price, like they did against the Rangers, to score some ugly goals on the door step against Roloson. 11 of the 13 Washington goals in round one were from in tight so that trend must continue. On the back end, Karl Alzner and John Carlson will need to shut down the St. Louis and Stamkos’ line. Also, the Caps third and fourth lines must not let guys like Moore, Hall, Bergenheim, and Thompson be a factor in the series. Bergenheim and Thompson have super speed and they can draw lots of penalites if the defense does not keep their feet moving.
Last time these teams met the Bolts did not have Malone in the lineup and he is a force to be reckoned with in front of the cage. Washington won that final meeting, 2-1, in a shootout, and Roloson had one of his patented nights. However, after Michal Neuvirth left that game following the first period due to debris in his eye, Braden Holtby came in and shut the ‘Ning down. Nicklas Backstrom left that tilt early due to his fractured thumb issue. Mike Green was also out due to injury but Dennis Wideman logged 28:02 to lead the blue liners and the Caps in ice time.
Bottom line is both of these two teams are different than they were in the regular season matchups so you have to throw those records and scores out the window. The Caps will have Green in the lineup on Friday but Mike Knuble and Wideman are doubtful given that they practiced on a separate rink with the Black Aces (Hershey call-ups) on Wednesday at Kettler Iceplex.
Washington will have a huge advantage if they can get the first goal in each game or at least get a lead in the second period so that Tampa doesn’t go to that sagging zone defensive scheme where their blue liners back up like safeties covering a hail mary pass in football. The Caps need to keep the game five on five as well since Tampa was a blistering 8 for 27 (29.6%) on the power play against the Penguins and 34 for 35 killing Pittsburgh man advantage situations.
The complete series schedule, to include TV info, is listed below:
Friday, April 29, 2011 7 p.m. TB Lightning at Washington VERSUS, TSN
Sunday, May 1, 2011 7 p.m. TB Lightning at Washington VERSUS, CBC
Tuesday, May 3, 2011 TBD Washington at TB Lightning CSN, VERSUS, TSN
Wednesday, May 4, 2011 7 p.m. Washington at TB Lightning CSN, TSN
*Saturday, May 7, 2011 12:30 p.m. TB Lightning at Washington NBC, TSN
*Monday, May 9, 2011 TBD Washington at TB Lightning CSN, VERSUS, TSN
*Wednesday, May 11, 2011 TBD TB Lightning at Washington CSN, VERSUS, TSN