Southeast Skirmish

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

After ousting the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup playoffs in their first-round series, the Washington Capitals spent the next four days resting, practicing and waiting to learn the identity of their second round foe. In the final seconds of the last of all the first round series games to be played, the Tampa Bay Lightning sealed a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, cementing the Lightning as the Caps’ second-round foe. “It’s amazing quite frankly,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “the difference of knowing who your opponent is [versus] not knowing. You feel like you’re just waiting and sort of lost in space. It makes the series an awful lot closer, which it is anyway.” Tampa Bay’s 1-0 win over the Pens was just the sixth 1-0 Game 7 victory in Stanley Cup playoff history – and the first since 2002 – according to Elias Sports. Starting on Friday at Verizon Center, the Caps and Lightning will hook up in just the second ever Stanley Cup playoff series that pits a pair of Southeast Division teams. The first was in 2003, when – despite winning the first two games on the road – the Butch Cassidy-coached Capitals were bounced by the John Tortorella-led Lightning. A year later, Tortorella led the Lightning to the first Stanley Cup championship by a Southeast Division club. Olie Kolzig backstopped the Caps in that 2003 series while Nikolai Khabibulin tended the twine for Tampa Bay. Of the Capitals who were in the lineup for Game 1 that spring, only five remain active in the NHL today: Sergei Gonchar (Ottawa), Mike Grier (Buffalo), Jeff Halpern (Montreal), Brian Sutherby (Dallas) and Dainius Zubrus (New Jersey). Three members of that 2002-03 Lightning team are still toiling in Tampa Bay: forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis and defenseman Pavel Kubina, who returned to Tampa Bay this season after spending the last several seasons in Toronto and Atlanta. St. Louis supplied the series-winning goal in Game 6, a triple-overtime strike on Easter Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center. Naturally, it was a power play goal that came after Washington had been detected with too many men on the ice. Okay, so much for history. Ancient history, anyway. Might be worth looking at the six games these two teams played against one another during the 2010-11 regular season. Washington won four of the six games, but Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson blanked the Caps in the two Tampa Bay victories. The Caps needed a period of the first meeting between the two teams to adjust to coach Guy Boucher’s system, but did so effectively winning 6-3 on Nov. 11 and 6-0 on Nov. 26 in the first two games at Verizon Center. Then it was Boucher’s turn to adjust, and he did. Three days after coming to the Lightning in a Jan. 1 trade with the Islanders, goaltender Dwayne Roloson shutout the Caps 1-0 in overtime at Verizon Center. Eight days later, he did it again in Tampa Bay, blanking the Caps by a 3-0 count. With a couple days to prepare for the fifth meeting, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff readied their team specifically to win that Feb. 4 game against the Lightning. That strategy worked, as Washington skated off with a convincing 5-2 win. A month later, the Caps squeaked out a 2-1 shootout win over the Bolts to close the season’s series. “Obviously the playoffs have a tendency to bring emotions to another level,” says Boucher. “I think the first game is going to be tough. The last game is going to be tougher. That’s what it was for our series against Pittsburgh and I’m sure it won’t be any different. When you watch their series against the Rangers, it was a real tough series. It was physical; it was emotional. I don’t plan it to be any different.” Both teams have different personnel now, at the end of April, than they had in November when they first met. The Lightning added Roloson and veteran defenseman Eric Brewer during the season. The Caps added Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm and defensemen Scott Hannan and Dennis Wideman (currently sidelined with a lower body injury. Tampa Bay forwards Steve Downie and Ryan Malone both missed multiple meetings with Washington because of injuries, and Caps defenseman Mike Green and sniper Alexander Semin both missed two of the games between the Caps and Bolts. Washington’s best players were its best players against the Lightning this season. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each recorded 10 points (two goals, eight assists each) against Tampa Bay in 2010-11 while Semin had seven goals and nine points in just four games against the Bolts. For the Lightning, Sean Bergenheim and Teddy Purcell were the only Tampa Bay players to score more than one goal against Washington this season. They each had two. But St. Louis, Lecavalier and Simon Gagne are longtime Caps-killers. St. Louis’ lone goal against the Caps this season was an overtime game-winner, and he led the Lightning with four points against the Caps. Tampa Bay boasts a deep and diverse group of forwards. Boucher prefers to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen, and the Lightning have 10 forwards who reached the double-digit level in goals, so they’ve got multiple threats on every line. Shutting them down and containing them will be a tall task for a solid Caps defensive corps. Washington has had several days to rest while Tampa Bay takes the ice for Friday’s Game 1 less than 48 hours removed from its series-clinching win over Pittsburgh in the first round. “The only thing that we’re lacking compared to the other team now is rest,” says Boucher, “because [the Capitals] didn’t know [Wednesday] night until we won that they were doing to play us. So they didn’t necessarily prepare [for] us. They get the same amount of time, probably a bit more sleeping time than us. We came here at three-something [Thursday] morning. We woke up early and we’re working at it. The players will get more rest, so that will be good.” Both teams will concentrate more on the way they like to play, but the season’s series featured a series of adjustments by both coaches and both teams and this best-of-seven set figures to be no different. “I think in the end,” begins Boucher, “they’ve got their own style and we’ve got our own. We’re certainly not going to change who we are and they won’t change who they are, either. They’ll make adjustments I’m sure as we will. After the first game, after the first period, during the periods, there will be adjustments that will be made. Like any series, we’ll have to adjust as we go on and learn what we need to do against them.”

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Self Help Time

January 14, 2013

In the Washington locker room after Friday’s Game 1 loss to the Lightning, there was no shortage of players willing to discuss what went wrong in the Capitals’ 4-2 series-opening setback. “We didn’t really stick to the game plan in the second period,” says Caps right wing Eric Fehr, whose goal

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