Stanley Cup Payoffs: Washington Capitals vs Tampa Bay Lightning Who Wins & Why
The Washington Capitals have battled a divisional foe one time in the postseason since joining the Southeast Division back in 1998. It was in 2003 when they lost a six game series to the team they are set to face tomorrow night in the second round of the 2011 Eastern Conference semi finals.
The No. 5 seeded Tampa Bay Lightning will visit the Verizon center in Washington DC for Games 1 and 2, fresh off their come from behind stunning seven game series victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Led by their 41-year-old goaltender, Dwayne Roloson, the Lightning come into Washington with plenty of momentum.
The Capitals were also led by their goalie, 23-year-old rookie sensation, Michael Neuvirth. Neuvirth outdueled another cagy veteran in Henrik Lundqvist as the Caps won three-one-goal games and needed overtime to win Games 1 and 4.
The Capitals and Lightning met six times this past regular season, as defense and goaltending remained far from the story lines in several of the contests.
The Capitals were 4-1-1 against the Bolts this season, but were twice shutout by Tampa net minder, Dwayne Roloson.
There are many questions as both teams head into Game 1. Will Roloson be able to continue his mastery in net, and for that matter, will Neuvirth continue to play like a cagy playoff vet himself?
How will all of the scoring power from both teams fair in a seven game series? Will Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and captain Vinny Lecavalier be able to out duel the two Alex's and Nicklas Backstrom?
Or will the Capitals continue their stellar defensive play and turn this series into another low scoring affair?
Click through the slides as I break down everything from goalies to goal scorers in what is sure to be another great playoff battle.
Goaltending: Neuvirth's Youth vs. Roloson's Experience
Dwayne Roloson was simply amazing for the Lightning in Game7 vs. Pittsburgh. He made 36 saves, and many of them were simply outstanding. He was bothered in front by Penguin forwards and defenders and stood tall, never being rattled.
Roloson went 4-3 with a 1.77 GAA and league-leading .949 save percentage. He stopped 243 of 256 shots in seven games and allowed only four goals in winning the final three games against Pittsburgh.
However, the Penguins did not bring the firepwer that Washington will. The Caps are four lines deep, and no one in the Pittsburgh lineup right now fires a shot like that of Alex Ovechkin or Alex Semin.
For all of Roloson's tenure in the NHL, he does not have that much playoff experience. He has made the most of his playoff appearances, becoming just the second goalie ever to go 6-0 in elimination games and is now 2-0 in game sevens.
Including the seven game series against the Pens, Rolo has just 40 playoff appearances. Lifetime, he is 22-14 with a 2.41 goals against and a .922 save percentage.
Washington will get in his face. The Caps were able to agitate Roloson tremendously during a 5-2 victory in Tampa back on February 4. Roloson took several swipes at Caps players in front and seemed to get off his game in the process.
Washington will need to be patient with the puck and wait for Roloson.
He will make a mistake, and Washington must "capitalize.” If they do not, then Roloson will take advantage and can get into their heads just as he did when he shut Washington out in back to back appearances after being acquired on New Year’s Day.
Roloson did lead a very mediocre Edmonton Oilers team the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2006. He injured his knee following Game 1 vs. Carolina and did not return to play as the Oilers lost in seven games.
The 23-year-old Czech native did everything he was asked to do in round one against the Rangers. He came within a garbage goal late in Game 5 of earning two first round shutouts. Neuvirth stopped 140 of 148 shots in round No.1 and looked very calm and collected in doing so.
Neuvirth had a knack for allowing the proverbial soft goal during the regular season and allowed one in the Game 3 loss vs. New York, but he rebounded well.
Neuvirth was hit in his crease by Sean Avery and Brandon Dubinsky on several occasions during the opening series but never became rattled by them or the raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Neuvirth had a lot of help in front of him during the series. The Caps continued their stellar play on defense against the Rangers and averaged almost 21 blocked shots per game.
Like Roloson, Neuvirth will see a lot better and more accurate firing squad in this round. The Bolts are quicker and possess more up front than the Rangers, who were without their leading scorer, Ryan Callahan.
Neuvirth posted one shutout with an astounding 1.38 goals against and a .946 save percentage in round one.
EDGE: Tampa Bay Lightning and Dwayne Roloson
A very slight edge to Roloson. Neuvirth did nothing to lose this edge to Roloson. It simply comes down to what Roloson did to gain it with his play in the final two games vs. Pittsburgh.
Do not get upset with me, Caps fans, but you must keep in mind that Roloson had to be better in his series. Eric Brewer, Mike Lundin, Brett Clark, Mattias Ohlund, Pavel Kubina and Victor Hedman are not Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson, Scott Hannan and company.
Roloson faced an average of 36 shots per game to Neuvirth’s 29. There will be a shutout in the series, and the goalie that records it wins the series.
Defensemen: Washington Will Control the Tempo of Play and Tampa Will Not Adjust
After being blown out 7-0 by the Rangers in December, the Washington Capitals made a commitment to play defense first. They did it in the first round, and they are not about to stop now. The Capitals surrendered just eight goals in five games and trapped the Rangers right out of the playoffs.
The Caps play all out without the puck and are willing to sacrifice their bodies (see above video) to stop the other team anywhere on the ice.
Led by Mike Green, yes, Mike Green in the first round, the Caps defense also contributed in the scoring department. Mike Green was the only Washington player to record a point in every first round game as three other Caps blue liners chipped in with a point.
The Caps lead the NHL, surrendering just 1.6 goals per game in the playoffs. Washington does not just play hard and physical; they play smart. Clearing attempts are made to the corners, as defenders simply do not take unnecessary chances.
Jeff Schultz has more ice time per game (23:15 per game) without being on the ice for a goal-against than any other defenseman in these playoffs. Karl Alzner and John Carlson continue to press teams into mistake, and while Carlson played a horrible middle frame in Game 4, when he was on the ice for all three Rangers goals, he bounced back to finish strong in the third period and in both overtimes.
Scott Hannan and John Erskine continue to provide the veteran leadership this young group needs. Hannan was a plus three in the first round and through 78 career playoff games, is a plus-15.
Tampa must find a way to beat the Caps consistently. When Washington is beaten for a goal, they recover quickly with short memories. The Bolts will have to play harder in round two than they did in round one to beat a stout Pens D.
During the regular season, Pittsburgh finished as the league’s seventh best team on the blue line. Washington finished fourth.
The Bolts were a long way from fourth during the regular season in team defense. They finished ranked 22nd, allowing 2.85 goals per contest. The Bolts clamped down majorly against Pittsburgh and are ranked second behind the Caps in the postseason with just two goals allowed per game.
While the acquisition of Blues captain Eric Brewer helped the Bolts blue line, they still tend to suffer mental lapses at times in clearing their own zone and playing in front of their goalie. They cannot afford to do either in this series.
Not to take anything away from what Tampa Bay did defensively in round one, but they did allow 36 shots per game to the Pens.
Pittsburgh was hardly a scoring machine entering the playoffs. Over the last 20 games of the regular season, the Pens scored two goals or less 12 times. In the final four games in which they scored four or more goals, they faced the Islanders, Thrashers, Devils and Panthers.
Like Green did with the Caps, Brewer also contributed with five points in the series vs. Pittsburgh.
The Lightning must be a more disciplined team and may have to reduce Victor Hedman's time if he does not sure up his game a little more this round. Hedman was victimized several times against the Pens.
The Bolts will have to clamp down even more and not rely on Roloson as much in round two as they did in round one. If Washington gets off 36 shots a game, the Caps will move on in five games.
EDGE: There is nothing slight about this; the Capitals have a clear advantage at the blue line in this series.
Special Teams: Lightning Can Strike Early and Often
Regardless of how the Tampa Bay Lightning gains an advantage on the power play, they score when they have it. They score at home, and in the first round vs. Pittsburgh, they shredded one of the NHL's best penalty killing units on the road.
The Bolts were 6-for-16 (37.5 percent) at the Consol Energy Center in the Steel City during the first round. The Lightning power play ranks third in the playoffs with a 29.6-percent efficiency overall.
When the Bolts were down a man in the regular season, they ranked eighth in the league killing off 83.8 percent of their shorthanded situations.
Special teams cost the Penguins the series. Simply put, Pittsburgh was atrocious, and that is the major reason why they are staying home. Tampa allowed the Penguins just one power play goal in 35 chances. The Penguins' lone power play goal did not even come at home.
Many are still wondering what happened to Washington's high-octane power play from last year. The Caps did not set the world on fire with their predictable power play against the Rangers, but they did get three timely extra man goals in 16 chances. With Mike Green healthy and the possible return of Dennis Wideman on the horizon, these numbers could get better in a hurry.
The Caps were pretty good during the regular season when they scored a power play goal. The Caps were 27-3-4 when they scored with the extra man and 14-0-2 when they scored one but did not allow one.
Washington should not take much stock in what they did killing penalties during the regular season. The penguins were ranked No. 1 overall in the NHL and the Caps were No. 2. You can see how that worked out for Pittsburgh.
EDGE: Lightning. The Caps must not take dumb penalties. They must watch the neutral zone hooks and holds. The Lightning are quicker, and those penalties come in bunches during a fast paced game. Washington may want to distribute the above video to all NHL referees assigned to do this series. It cannot hurt.
Forwards: The Great 8 Is Looking to Carry the Caps to a Cup
Alex Ovechkin continued to shine in the playoffs, adding six more points to his already fat career playoff stats. Joining him was Alexander Semin. Even though Semin disappeared briefly after scoring the overtime winner in Game 1, his goal to jump start the Caps in Game 4 was as big a goal as there was in the series
How Semin played spoke volumes about his commitment right now to his team. He was hungry in the corners and behind the net, playing a solid two-way game.
Washington could use a little more from Nicklas Backstrom, but with the way the Caps are playing four lines deep, his lack of production went relatively unnoticed. He was great on special teams.
Stepping up big for the Caps was rookie center Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera. Johansson never played like a rookie and never ignored his two0way duties. His two goals in Game 4 was major production. The fact that Johansson scored both of them in front of the net spoke volumes to his commitment.
Next man up is a term usually relegated in the NFL, but when Mike Knuble went down, Jason Chimera stepped up to the first line, and his double overtime winner to complete the Game 4 comeback was the dagger in the Blushirts back.
The Lightning also successfully played four lines deep against the Pens.
So far this postseason, Tampa has six players with at least two goals. They beat one of the best goalies in the NHL like "a rented mule" at times in the series, and it was not just skilled position players that made Fleury want to scratch his back with a hacksaw.
Martin St. Louis leads the team with four goals and eight points, and Simon Gagne and Downie each chipped in with seven points. Teddy Purcell, who had a career high 51 points this past season, has four assists and five points in the playoffs.
The good news with Steven Stamkos is he finally got the playoff monkey off his back by scoring two goals in the 8-2 thumping of the Pens in Game 5.
The bad news, when it was all said and done, it was as if Stamkos hit two solo homeruns with his team up by 10 runs after the fifth inning, and yes, I know he scored the second goal of the game.
The goals failed to jump-start the NHL's second leading goal scorer in the final two games of the series. This coming on the heels of Stamkos closing out the season with just four goals in last 21 games. He must get going if the Bolts are to advance to the conference finals.
EDGE: Slightly to the Capitals
With just about everyone contributing on both teams, the edge is probably even. However, after watching both series from start to finish, I give a slight edge to the Caps. I believe their forwards are playing a better two way game, and remember, defense wins championships.
Coaching: The Battle of the B's Could Get Intense
Bruce Boudreau must have the best poker face in the history of the world. He looked lost all season and at times looked as though he hoped whatever experiment he was running would end so he could go home and drop F bombs in the mirror for the next HBO special.
Boudreau was working a plan, and it has come together. He coached relaxed in the first round, and every button he pushed, it produced results, from starting and sticking with Michael Neuvirth to moving Alex Ovechkin from left wing to right wing at the end of Game 4 and for Game 5.
Boudreau, who took criticism during the regular season for his lack of stability with his line changes and combinations, was right on the money with his pairings and combinations in the first round series. He made only minimal changes, and they worked almost immediately.
Remember back in Game 1 when he paired Alex Semin with Ovechkin and Backstrom? It took just two shifts to produce a goal.
He also out maneuvered the NY media by taking swipes at the Rangers fans and Madison Square Garden. The move was brilliant in that he moved talk from whispers of a choke in progress following the Game 3 loss to "Can You Hear Us" from the NY faithful.
First year head coach Guy Boucher has a master’s degree in sports psychology. He obviously used it in convincing his team that all a 3-1 series deficit meant was a seven game series victory for his team.
Boucher was also brilliant in the first round. His players believe in him, his system and whatever he tells them. He is the type of coach where his players will ask how high when he says jump.
He also managed his players' ice time well, and while Tampa did not look like spring chickens with five minutes to go in game seven, they had enough in the tank to hold on.
EDGE: Bruce Boudreau
Bruce Boudreau has finally played and won a series that did not go to seven games. Boudreau has his troops rested and ready, and while the Lightning may have played in a tough seven game series, you can bet Boucher will have them fired up and ready to play.
The edge goes to Boudreau. You live, you learn and it appears that Boudreau has done just that. Not to mention the fact that Boudreau's team finished ahead of Boucher’s after trailing them for the better part of the season.
Boucher will be a great head coach in the NHL. If the above video is a sample of what we can look forward to, an entertaining one as well.
Intangibles and the Prediciton
Many of the articles surrounding the Capitals right now are dealing with how Washington will deal with the rust of being off for six days once the puck drops tonight.
Hellllooooo out there, the Capitals battle rust in every first period they play. They Caps would battle first period rust in back-to back games if they played the second one an hour after the first one ended.
The Capitals and the Lightning are polar opposites when it comes to starting and finishing this past season. Washington never started fast at any time this season, and as bad as the Caps started games off this season, is as bad as the Bolts finished.
Ironically, the Caps were still good enough to finish as the best team in the East during the regular season with a 23-19-5 record when allowing the first goal. The Caps were also ranked No.1 when trailing after one period with a 15-11-3 mark.
Only the Edmonton Oilers scored fewer first period goals this season than Washington. The Caps scored just 54 times in the first period and that trend continues into the playoffs.
Washington allowed the first goal in three of the five games and still won two of them.
The Caps did tighten up in the first period, and although they have just one first period goal themselves through five games (last amongst active teams), they have yet to surrender a first period tally in the opening 20 minutes.
In total contrast, the Bolts ranked second with 82 first period goals and seventh in the league with 87 middle frame markers. Tampa dropped to the bottom of the league (27th) with 64 goals in the final 20 minutes of play.
The Capitals finished ranked tenth with 80 goals in the final frame this season, and when they scored three or more goals this past season, Washington was 41-0-3.
So if there is rust from a layoff how will we know?
These numbers are more than trends or slumps. They represent opportunities for each in the second round. I predicted a seven game Tampa Bay series victory over Pittsburgh because I thought the Bolts would jump out in front and hang on to win four games before the Pens would be able catch them.
The Capitals have home ice, and that meant something this year in Washington. The Caps were the best home team in the Eastern conference this past season.
I like Alexander Semin to be the hero in this series. Semin tortured Tampa earlier this season scoring two hat tricks against them in the month of November, and he seems to be flying around and sacrificing his body to make plays.
I like Neuvirth to out duel another veteran goalie, and I like Boudreau to outcoach Boucher. I also like the Caps penalty kill to cool down the Lightning power play. I would also not be surprised if the series were 1-1
There just seems to be something different about this Caps team. There does not seem to be as much pressure given the franchise's and this team’s playoff futility.
That is a credit to the coaching staff and the confidence they have in each other.
Credit may also be due to the trade deadline acquisitions of veterans like Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm. Arnott has been vital to the Caps success thus far, and his leadership is exactly what all Caps fans felt was missing in this very spot of the season.
Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will continue to stick to the blue print that got them to this point. A blue print that has them winning in five games and moving on to battle the Flyers or Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals.