Tampa Bay is one of the few teams in the conference whose scoring depth rivals Washington's. But while the Lightning is speedy and creative, it is not a club ripe with power forwards and bruising wingers. Four players -- Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Vaclav Prospal and Martin St. Louis -- cracked the 70-point mark and the team has two capable scoring lines. But its top two centers, Lecavalier and Richards, have never been in the playoffs and could have a difficult time finding free ice versus the Capitals' suffocating checking line. Washington hopes to use its grinding wingers -- Steve Konowalchuk, Mike Grier, Dainius Zubrus, Brian Sutherby -- to fatigue Tampa Bay's defense over a long series. Right winger Jaromir Jagr, the only Capital to score at least 70 points this season, and Peter Bondra have feasted on the Lightning throughout their careers. Bondra has 40 goals and 54 points in 48 career games against Tampa Bay, and Jagr has 25 goals and 51 points in 43 games against the Lightning. Jagr is one of the dominant postseason performers in the NHL, with 65 goals and 147 points in 140 games. Jagr, who won two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh, will play his first postseason series for Washington. Edge: Capitals


Neither of these clubs boasts the kind of individual defensemen who can control a series, but Washington has superior talent and experience in its top two pairs. The Lightning will have a difficult time matching up with Jagr's line -- and Pavel Kubina will likely draw that assignment. The Capitals' top two pairs -- Sergei Gonchar-Ken Klee and Brendan Witt-Calle Johansson -- are playoff tested and posses a nice mix of brawn and finesse. Either pair could handle playing against one of Tampa Bay's top lines although a pair of playoff rookies -- Jason Doig and Joel Kwiatkowski -- will likely have to take some shifts against a top line when the Lightning is playing at home, with the home team getting to make the last line change. The Lightning relies on goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to make spectacular saves to anchor its defense and is light on puck-rushing defenders other than Dan Boyle. Health could be an issue for Washington, with Witt and Klee coming off injuries, although they have looked good since returning to practice. Edge: Capitals


Washington's Olaf Kolzig is coming off what he believes was the best regular season of his career -- he rarely had a bad night -- and can draw on the experience of leading his team to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998. Khabibulin can steal a series as well, and, although his playoff pedigree is not as sparkling as Kolzig's, he finished the season with one loss in his final 18 games. Both goalies feed off a heavy workload and have a flair for making dramatic saves. This battle could well decide the series. Edge: Even

Special Teams

The Capitals had better-fine tune their power play and penalty killing if they plan on making a long playoff run. Power plays are at a premium in the postseason and the team that best capitalizes on the man advantage tends to win a series. Washington has as much power-play talent as any club in the NHL, but its output wavers from phenomenal to nil; rarely is it in between. The penalty killing has been at the bottom of the NHL virtually all season, although it improved marginally in the second half. Tampa Bay's power play ranked in the top 10, and three players topped 10 power-play goals -- Lecavalier, St. Louis and Dave Andreychuk. Tampa Bay's penalty killers finished in the middle of the pack, but that is still a substantial upgrade over Washington's ranking, third worst in the NHL. Edge: Lightning


Bruce Cassidy has made great strides late in his first season coaching in the NHL, but the pressure will really mount now. His ability to match lines and fight to get favorable personnel on the ice at key moments will be tested. He has ample weapons at his disposal, and his biggest test might be devising a power-play scheme that works consistently. Tampa Bay Coach John Tortorella entered the season on the hot seat after a series of confrontations with Lecavalier last season, but did a fine job of steering his team to its first division title. Like Cassidy, Tortorella has never coached in the NHL playoffs. Tortorella's biggest challenge will be constructing lines to check Washington's top two offensive lines, and that mismatch could prove huge as the series progresses. Edge: Even


The Capitals have a vast advantage in playoff experience and depth, as well as a decade of success against the Lightning to draw upon. Washington has a 34-12-6 all-time record against Tampa, and the Lightning has not won in MCI Center since Nov. 4, 1998, a span of 11 games. Tampa has only played one prior playoff series, a first-round defeat to Philadelphia in 1996, and almost its entire roster is comprised of playoff novices. But the Lightning can take solace in its 2-3 record against Washington this season as well as its tremendous conclusion to the season, using a 14-2-8 run between Feb. 14 and Apr. 2 to secure the Southeast Division title. Tampa Bay went from March 7 through April 2 without losing a game and has defeated elite teams such as Detroit and Ottawa this season. They are clearly a different team than their predecessors, but having to open the series at home as the higher seed, and thus faced with sudden expectations, could be too much for the young team to handle. Edge: Capitals

-- Jason La Canfora

Steve Konowalchuk is one of several rugged wingers Caps hope will fatigue Lightning. Sergei Gonchar's playoff experience could provide an advantage vs. Tampa Bay.Vincent Lecavalier is the Lightning's top center and an effective power-play scorer.