Baltimore is blessed with a bunch of talented sports bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. I often link up to these local writers in my morning Coffee Companion posts, but instead of just exchanging anti-social links with them, I have decided to be slightly less anti-social by exchanging emails with them in a somewhat regular feature called Blogger on Blogger.
On the heels of the Capitals’ most recent playoff collapse, I wanted to tap into the exceptional pool of hockey bloggers in the D.C. area for our latest installment of Blogger on Blogger. Lucky for me, I was able to convince Ian Oland and Neil Greenberg of Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks, which might be the best of the bunch, to talk hockey with me. I would like to thank them for getting their answers back to me on such a short turnaround.
MV: So what went wrong for the Capitals this time around?
IO: After swiftly beating the Rangers in five games, the Capitals ran into a brick wall in the second round. Why? Well it was a lot of things. First of all, the Lightning were on a roll. After falling behind in their first-round series, 3-1, Tampa rallied and took three straight games from the Penguins, outscoring them 13-4 in the process. While the Capitals sat at home for a week waiting to find out who their opponent would be, the Bolts had gelled and were starting to play some of their best hockey of the season.
When the first game of their semifinals series finally started, the Capitals struggled to find the same rhythm they had in the first round. The offense stayed to the perimeter -- unwilling to pay the same price for goals as they did against New York -- and had problems hitting the net or getting shots through. When they actually did, 41-year-old goaltender Dwayne Roloson -- whom the Lightning acquired from the Islanders on the same day as the Winter Classic -- was equal to the challenge. Rebounds were limited and the Lightning defense was good at clearing the puck when necessary.
While Alex Ovechkin was arguably the most effective player in the entire series, the Capitals' other stars like Nicklas Backstrom (zero goals, one assist) and Alex Semin (one goal, one assist) were outshined by both the Lightning's best players -- Vincent Lecavalier (six points) and Martin St. Louis (five points) -- as well as their role players: Steve Downie (five points) and Sean Bergenheim (four goals).
The series could have been different if the Capitals could have won Game 2 at home or Game 3 in Tampa. Instead, they made crucial mistakes unbefitting of a championship team and lost. During overtime in Game 2, Capitals defenseman Scott Hannan had a brain cramp and made a poor shift-change. As Jeff Schultz struggled to get back into the play, Vincent Lecavalier was left alone in front of the net and tallied the [game-winning goal in overtime]. Then in Game 3, while holding a 3-2 lead in the third period, the Caps flat out wilted on the ice, giving up two goals in under 30 seconds.
It's important to remember that the Caps finished only four standings points (which amounts to basically two wins) above the Lightning during the regular season. Tampa Bay rarely strayed from their 1-3-1 trap and played well for [coach] Guy Boucher all year. They are a good team, too. Washington also struggled with injury throughout the series -- Mike Knuble, Eric Fehr, Mike Green, and Dennis Wideman all missed time and John Carlson played hurt -- and were thoroughly outplayed in the third period of each game.
MV: Have you seen Backstrom and Semin anywhere, or should we file a missing person’s report?
NG: I saw Backstrom create more than 25 scoring chances since March 22 without scoring a goal, so I know he was on the ice. When they had the exit interviews [Wednesday] and the media said that the Super Swede wasn't injured, I was not all that surprised: [coach Bruce] Boudreau relied on him pretty heavily to take defensive zone draws since David Steckel was traded and wouldn't have if he knew of an injury. At least I don't think. Backstrom and Ovechkin were used very differently than they were in years past, and I wasn't surprised to see a downturn in production. I was only surprised by how long the slump lasted.
Semin, compared to last season, had a decent playoffs: four goals and two assists in nine games after going zero for 44 [shots] against Montreal last year. You need to keep expectations low with Semin: He's a purely offensive player who shows glimpses of concentration on the penalty kill while taking stick penalties in the offensive zone. Deviate from that and you'll probably be disappointed.
MV: Will another disappointing early end cost Boudreau his job, and should it cost him his job?