NHL Eastern Semifinals: Lightning Get the Job Done Against Capitals in Game 1

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIApril 30, 2011

The Lightning outfought Alexander the Great and his Capitals in Game One
The Lightning outfought Alexander the Great and his Capitals in Game OneGreg Fiume/Getty Images

If you're scoring at home that's David 1, Goliath 0 in the series.

Before the series, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher was channeling Lou Holtz and showering their second-round opponents, the Washington Capitals, with praises. It was the kind of stuff that makes you smile. "Gosh darn, we're just happy to have a chance to play against a team as talented as that one over there."

Boucher kept at it, even after the Lightning won Game 1 in Washington 4-2.

"The first round has given us some tools to be calmer under pressure, but having said that, that team we are playing is quite a hockey machine and I can tell you at ice level they look outstanding,'' Boucher told the Tampa Tribune, "It was surprising to come in today and be able to win one of the two here, and to be honest we were not expecting that."

It was indeed a little surprising to see the Capitals struggle so much against Tampa Bay. The Lightning were coming off a hard fought, nail-biting seven-game series with the punch-less Pittsburgh Penguins, while Washington coasted to an easy series victory over the Rangers.

The Capitals had what Pittsburgh did not—firepower to make the Lightning pay for any mistake they made, a solid powerplay and two of the top players in the world in Alexander the Great and Semin.

It surprised this columnist that in so many ways, the Pittsburgh series felt tougher. The hitting was certainly more ferocious in Round 1 of the series, although two of the bigger hits of the night in Game 1 resulted in upper body injuries to Simon Gagne (who did not return) and Pavel Kubina.

In the first round, the Lightning seemed to have to expend so much energy just getting the puck into the Penguins zone that quality chances were few and far between. In Game 1, the Lightning seemed to have scoring chance after scoring chance with goalie Michael Neuvirth pulling the Caps out of the fire.

Meanwhile, it was an average night for Dwayne Roloson, who let in two terrible goals but still turned in some big saves before the night was over.

As has been the case most of the post-season for Tampa Bay, the opponent led in shots as the Caps outshot the Lightning 28 to 24.

Still, there was a strange feel to the game. Even if you buy into Boucher a little bit and assume that the top seeded Caps are the better team—you kept waiting for that moment where they took the game over.

After the playoff dynamo Sean Bergenheim gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead, Washington answered quickly with a trickle-in goal by Semin. In the second period, the Lightning won a faceoff in their own zone but lost the battle for the puck, allowing Eric Fehr to tap in a quick goal to spot the Caps a 2-1 advantage.

You would think it was Washington's game from there. While the Caps had some surges, mostly on the power play—that was mostly it for their offense.

After Downie tied the game midway through the second period and the Lightning took the lead on Stamkos' power play goal, the Capitals seemed unable to figure out a way to sustain pressure in the Lightning zone against Tampa Bay's 1-3-1 trap.

Even when Tampa Bay was down a man, they seemed to clear the puck rather easily. The Lightning continued their mastery on special teams, going 5-for-5 on the pk while going 1-for-4 on their own PP.

Alexander Ovechkin—one of the best players in the world—managed two shots (neither were scoring chances) and was a -1 for the game. Alexander Semin scored a goal, but he was held to just two shots.

Where was this machine?

"We're surprised by the result tonight—but happy with it," Roloson told the Associated Press with a wry smile. "We were lucky to win a hockey game. We had some bounces."

If you're wondering, Washington had two more wins than the Lightning (48 to 46) and just four more points in the standings (107 to 103).

You know things are going well when Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau is whining as he did to the Tampa Tribune, "[the Lightning] make it frustrating. They just hang back [when they have the lead].You're trying to push, and they are very good at it. That's why when they get a lead, and they got the lead against Pittsburgh, they hold on to it.''

Well Bruce, somehow the Penguins managed to put all kinds of pressure on the Lightning, despite missing two of their stars. It's called grit and heart. It's called wanting to get a little dirty and win the battles.

If you don't have that, Goliath has no chance against little David. Despite what their coach says, the Lightning aren't scared of that red Capitals jersey. Washington can't just show up and expect the Bolts to tremble.

Bottom line, as the road team you come into the series looking to take one of two on the road in the first two games. Mission accomplished for the Bolts.

The pressure is off Tampa Bay; they got what they needed. Now it's all on Washington to make sure this series goes back to Tampa tied.