Full NHL brackets, schedule
The six-game grudge match that was these two teams’ battle for the Southeast Division has been extended. (The Caps won four of those meetings in the regular season.) The Lightning fumbled the division after a wobble down the stretch, not that it matters now. Tampa Bay advanced after a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 on Wednesday. The Lightning arrived in Washington at 3 a.m. Thursday, not giving them a whole lot of downtime. The Caps enter as the more rested team since they advanced past the New York Rangers in five games on Saturday.
“It should be interesting going up against a team in your own division,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters on Thursday. “It got pretty good there at the end of the (of the regular season) because both teams were vying for first place. . . . I think it’s going to take another step.”
Here’s the breakdown:
Forwards: Neither team is lacking here, especially on the top couple lines. Martin St. Louis, a former Hart Trophy winner, was announced as a finalist for the NHL MVP on Thursday. He had 99 points in the regular season and compiled eight points (four goals, four assists) in the first round. Simon Gagne, acquired by first-year GM Steve Yzerman last offseason, and Steve Downie have averaged a point per game so far in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin (three goals, three assists) doesn’t show any sign of the undisclosed injury that kept him out of a handful of games at the end of the regular season. Almost as important to the Caps’ postseason fortunes is the inspired play of Alexander Semin (three goals, assist), who was a ghost in previous postseasons. It will be interesting to see what a one-week break will mean to Nicklas Backstrom. He injured his thumb last month and had one point (an assist) in the first round. If he’s not right, look to see more of deadline acquisition Jason Arnott.
Defenseman: If the Lightning showed anything as they stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round is that they can hold a lead. Only one defenseman (Victor Hedman, minus-4) is negative in the plus-minus category. Eric Brewer, a former high first-round selection knocked at his previous stops for not living up to his potential, has a goal and four assists this postseason. The Caps received a scare when a shot sent screws flying off of the helmet of Mike Green, who missed the final 20 games of the regular season with concussion-like symptoms. He went to the dressing room, but returned to the bench and is ready to go in this series. He enters second on the Caps in points (five).
Goalies: Dwayne Roloson, 41, obviously has plenty left. Including his Game 7 shutout, he allowed only four goals over the final three games in the first round. He was 2-1-1 against the Caps with a 1.21 goals-against average after he joined the Lightning via a January trade with the New York Islanders. The Caps did have some success against Roloson this season, probably not so coincidentally after Washington agitator Matt Hendricks made contact with Roloson in a 5-2 Caps win on Feb. 4. On the other side of the experience scale is Caps rookie Michal Neuvirth. While he didn’t have to be spectacular against a hobbled New York Rangers team with few offensive weapons, the 23-year-old Czech did post a 1.38 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage.
Special teams: The Lightning have the best power play percentage (29.6) of the teams left in the playoffs, led by St. Louis (three goals). Much of those numbers were built in Game 5 as the Lightning scored on four of their six 5-on-4 opportunities. The Lightning also scored as many goals as they allowed (one) in 35 shorthanded situations en route to a 97.1 kill percentage. The Caps, who had middle-of-the-pack power play in the regular season, had a slightly better percentage (18.8 percent) in the first round. Washington has the best PK percentage (85.6) of the eight teams left in the postseason.
Prediction: Boudreau has never taken the Caps past the second round and he goes against a first-year coach (Guy Boucher) who has the Lightning back in the playoffs for the first time in four years. I think this could be the year the Caps break through to the conference finals, but the Lightning --- even if they are coming off a long series --- won’t go quietly. I say Caps in six games.
|No. 1 Washington vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay - Series tied, 0-0|
|April 29||at WAS||7 p.m.|
|May 1||at WAS||7 p.m.|
|May 3||at TB||TBA|
|May 4||at TB||7 p.m.|
|* May 7||at WAS||12:30 p.m.|
|* May 9||at TB||TBA|
|* May 11||at WAS||TBA|
-- A.J. Perez