One of the most interesting aspects of the Capitals’ second-round matchup with the Lightning is how this familiar foe can play two seemingly opposite styles at any given moment, and in any given game.
Tampa Bay thrives off nothing more than an opponent’s turnovers. How many times it’s able to pounce on a poorly protected puck will often dictate whether the transition game will be attacking in waves of odd man rushes, or if its 1-3-1 defense is hanging back and smothering.
The Capitals have seen both sides of Tampa Bay over the course of the season, sometimes in single games, and making sure they take care of the puck may be paramount in this series to combat either one.
Even though Washington knows the varying styles the Lightning is capable of playing, it’s almost impossible to predict how they’ll come out in Game 1.
“It could be that sit-back style, it could be pressure, they’re good at either,” Karl Alzner said. “It’s going to be interesting.”
The Lighting’s ability to adjust was apparent in their first-round victory over Pittsburgh as they rallied from down three games to one in the series with a mix of offense and stifling defense. Facing elimination in Game 5, Tampa Bay trounced the Penguins 8-2 then got contributions from the grinders in a 4-2 Game 6 victory before buckling down for a 1-0 triumph in Game 7 to advance.
Over the final three games of the series, Tampa Bay allowed four goals against and Dwyane Roloson stopped 94 of the 98 shots he faced while scoring 13 of their own.
“I think the main thing about the way they play is that they capitalize on your mistakes and they try to force you into making mistakes whether it’s in the neutral zone, or in your zone or wherever,” Matt Bradley said. “They have the guys that can really make you pay if you make mistakes. So I think the key is sticking to your game plan and not making those mistakes.”
On Feb. 4, the fifth meeting of the regular season between the two clubs, Coach Bruce Boudreau devised a plan to prevent Tampa Bay from having the benefit of those mistakes. Rather than going to the Lightning, the Capitals held the puck in their own zone – with defensemen playing catch and killing time – and forced Tampa Bay to make the first move on various possessions.
We don’t know if we’ll see something to that extent in this series, but the Capitals understand that the more they can maintain control of the puck the better they can throw the Lightning off.
“You like to play the puck and have possession of the puck during the game as much as you can, and they’re not a team that really allows you to do that a whole lot,” Alzner said. “You can’t skate the puck into their zone, five on five or power play. They stop you at the line all the time, so dumping the puck in, not turning it over at the blue line is going to be very important, because they come at you 4-on-2, 4-on-3, they bring everybody into the rush and that makes them very tough to defend against.
“It’s going to be us having to be responsible,” Alzner continued. “We might not always get a great scoring chance every time we’re out there, but as long as we don’t turn the puck over, that’s going to be good for us.”