#1 Washington Capitals vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
I’m not going to harp too much on the Capitals “journey” to the second round because, quite frankly, there hasn’t been much of one. They’re suppose to be here. The Caps are the #1 seed in the Conference and beat a far inferior New York Rangers team in 5 games in the first round. So far so good for the team that needs to exorcise the demons of early playoff exits. However, they face a tough match in the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Washington has adopted a new team philosophy that focuses more on team defense and responsibility in their own end at the expense of the flash-bang run-and-gun high-powered offense we had become accustomed to since the beginning of the Ovechkin Era. Although Oveckin, Semin, and Backstrom’s point production are down relative to year’s past, this new team-first approach has served this team well. A big question mark for the Caps is the health statuses of power forward Mike Knuble (hand) and defenseman Dennis Wideman (leg). Knuble is an essential piece to this offense, establishing a presence and physicality in front of the net that compliments their speedy snipers extremely well. The Caps need Wideman to deepen their defensive corps, especially with top D-man Mike Green playing at less than 100%.
Key Player: G Michael Neuvirth – The rookie Czech goaltender has been rock solid so far in his first playoffs, posting a stingy 1.38 GAA and .950 SV% in the first round (albeit against the Rangers comical offense). He is going to need to be huge in this series versus the Lightning’s high-powered offense, especially with the Capitals injuries on defense. As the saying goes, “Your best penalty-killer is always your goaltender.” Neuvirth better be for the Caps. The Lightning’s powerplay is running at a 29.6% clip in the playoffs (3rd best).
Plain and simple, the Lightning are the breakout team of the season. GM Steve Yzerman and Head Coach Guy Boucher have done an incredible job of assembling the right group of guys. More importantly, these guys want to play and work hard for them and eachother. It is no secret that Tampa Bay’s bread and butter is their offense, led by Martin St. Louis (officially a Hart Trophy candidate for the league’s most valuable player) who posted 4G, 4A, 8pts in round 1. The tandem of him and Steven Stamkos has proven to be one of the, if not THE deadliest duo in the entire league. 41 year-old goaltending Dwayne Roloson looks ageless, posting a 1.77 GAA and .949 SV% in round 1. More impressive, Roloson improved his record when facing elimination in the playoffs to 6-0 all-time. Talk about elevating your game when the pressure is on!
Key Player: C, Steven Stamkos – Other than Tampa Bay’s 8-2 blowout of the Pens in Game 5 where he potted 2 genos, Stamkos seemed lost in the quarterfinals (2G, 2A), although, he showed signs of heating up in Games 6 and 7. He is a master of getting in scoring position and knows better than anyone what to do with the puck in these areas. His shot is deadly accurate (16.5% shooting, top ten in the NHL regular season) and seems to be able to score from anywhere when he’s locked in. Stamkos needs to reemerge as the Lightning’s top finisher (45G in the regular season) for the Bolts to make a run in these playoffs. Look for him to have a BIG series in the ballpark of 6 goals.
- He’s probably sniping the shit out of some goalie in this picture.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Capitals are a great team. But I think this Lightning team currently has “the look”. The Bolts are working extremely hard and seem like a very cohesive team that really believes in each other. Call it a hunch, but Lightning in 7.