A familiar setup: Capitals must get past Lightning

April 29, 2011|By Katie Carrera, The Washington Post

ARLINGTON, Va. — Early in the regular season, it became clear the Washington Capitals would need to go through the upstart Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Southeast Division. After four months of jockeying, Washington triumphed for a fourth consecutive Southeast crown.

With the teams' Eastern Conference semifinal series set to begin with Game 1 tonight at Verizon Center, the Capitals find themselves with the familiar Lightning serving as a roadblock once more.

Washington went 4-1-1 against Tampa Bay in the regular season, but that statistic may be misleading. The Capitals posted a 2-1-1 record in the final four meetings, each of which featured flared tempers and accusations of unsportsmanlike play.

"It got pretty good there at the end, I think, the rivalry," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Just because both teams were vying for first place, and I think the last four games we had against them were pretty serious, serious games. But I think this takes it a different step."

To advance, Washington will need to have its star players outshine Tampa Bay's, make more consistent special-teams efforts, maintain discipline when emotions run high and have its goaltender stand up against potent scoring threats.

The Capitals used their forward depth to knock the New York Rangers out of the first round in five games, getting key contributions from the third and fourth lines. If Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are the only top-six forwards to record more than one goal in this series, though, Washington may struggle to match the Lightning's offensive capabilities.

The most conspicuous absence on the scoresheet so far this postseason is No. 1 center Nicklas Backstrom, who was held to one point against New York. It will be clear soon enough if the 23-year-old Swede's struggles were purely related to that opponent or the start of a significant drought.

Washington's special teams will be in the spotlight, too. The Capitals received timely power-play goals in the first round (3 for 18) but the Lightning has inflicted maximum damage on the man-advantage this postseason with a 29.6 percent success rate (8 for 27).

Neither Washington's penalty kill (19 of 20) nor Tampa Bay's (34 of 35) allowed more than one goal in the first round.

But one of those units is likely to break down during the series. The Capitals need to ensure it isn't theirs.

"I think that's a big challenge, and obviously that's a big key in the playoff series," Backstrom said. "We have to make sure we know what they're gonna do. They have great players on the power play too. We just have to avoid it as much as we can."

While Tampa Bay may be making its first trip to the second round of the playoffs since 2004, when it won the Stanley Cup, there are three players -- Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Pavel Kubina -- who played integral parts in that championship season.

For the Capitals, only Jason Arnott, who has played 16 games with Washington, was a prominent part of a Stanley Cup-winning squad.

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