Capitals vs. Lightning
Series: Best of seven games. Season series: Capitals won 4-1-1. Prediction: Capitals in seven.
Records: Capitals (No. 1 seed, first place in Eastern Conference) 48-23-11, Lightning (No. 5 seed, second in Southeast Division) 46-25-11.
This series is rather evenly matched throughout every position, beginning with both teams' talent-laden lineup of forwards. While Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin combined for six goals against the Rangers, no other top-six forward scored more than one. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's trio of Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier combined for eight goals in their series against Pittsburgh, while three other Lightning players recorded at least two goals as well. With each squad gaining contributions from its role players – Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson for Washington and Dominic Moore and Steve Downie for Tampa Bay – what may shift the balance up front is which team's star players can maximize their impact in the series, whether at even strength or on special teams.
While both the Capitals and Lightning have explosive offensive potential, each team has made steady defense a hallmark of its play. Washington played a stifling first round, allowing an average of only 1.60 goals against per contest. It's possible the Capitals may get Dennis Wideman back this series after a lengthy recovery from a leg hematoma and compartment syndrome he suffered in late March. That would give the team three puck-moving, right-handed defensemen in the lineup. Tampa Bay shored up its blueline when it picked up veteran Eric Brewer (five points, team-high average of 25:43 in the postseason) at the trade deadline to complement fellow veterans Pavel Kubina, Mattias Ohlund and second-year Victor Hedman.
Washington's 23-year-old Michal Neuvirth (.946, 1.38) is the youngest netminder remaining in the postseason, while his Tampa Bay counterpart, Dwayne Roloson (.949, 1.77) is the oldest at 41. Both are atop the postseason statistics, but both will need to rise to the challenge of facing arguably more consistent and imposing offenses in this Eastern Conference semifinal than they did in the first round. Neuvirth showed his calm-as-a-cucumber demeanor against the Rangers, seemingly unaffected by the amount of net-crashers that came his way. With a set of back-to-back contests scheduled for Games 3 and 4 in Tampa, though, it will be interesting to see how both goaltenders hold up through four games in six nights.
Capitals: Bruce Boudreau was able to put his team through several practices this week to reinforce its systems in preparation for the second round. The Capitals have yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs under Boudreau's direction.
Lightning: First-time NHL coach Guy Boucher receives much of the credit for helping mold Tampa Bay into a contender immediately upon his arrival. He's younger than goaltender Roloson, but he has proven he knows how to get everyone to buy into his plan.
By Katie Carrera - The Washington Post. Published April 29, 2011.