Most certainly, the better stories would have been either Montreal or Pittsburgh, especially with what happened last year in the case of the former, and all the ghosts involved with the latter (even without Malkin and Crosby). But we’ve got two teams from everyone’s favorite division to hate, the Southeast, and even though there are many people who would make the inevitable comparison that this series won’t live up to the drama and excitement the other series mentioned would, I still think it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. One of the chief complaints about the Southeast Division is its lack of a “classic” inter-division rivalry al a Boston/Montreal or Philadelphia/Pittsburgh, and this is how you build a rivalry like that.
Tampa Bay is a very inconsistent team to me. There are times where they look like world beaters (they led the SE most of the season before a late Caps surge), and then there are times they look like the team that had to rally from down 3-1 to a really terrible Penguins team and slumped the last half of the regular season. They have tremendous skill up front between Stamkos, St. Louis (who Mathieu Perreault should go to bed every night praying he becomes), and Lecavalier, who for a few years in the early 2000s could probably be considered the best player in the game. From what I’ve seen of them this year, I love their work in transition, and I think their various gameplans, especially the 1-3-1 they use on defense, are unique and exciting to watch.
One of the best coached games I saw this year was when Bruce Boudreau and the Caps attempted to use stretch passes and extremely long dump-ins along with an amazing amount of deliberation in their own zone to break up the 1-3-1 to great success (the Pens attempted the same thing in their series). It’s tough to get through because of how wide a net it casts, but there are gaps that can be exploited.
I’m worried about Tampa’s skill, but I’m fairly confident the Caps will be able to handle it. They’re deeper, more rested and healthier (relatively) than the Penguins were, and they’re much, much better defensively. Although the Caps power play did not light the world on fire this year, I have a tough time believing they’re going to go 1-for-35 like Pittsburgh did.
So I think that when you combine the confidence the Caps have in their ability to overcome deficits, their defensive mindset, and the firepower they can muster (even though it’s been missing for most of the year), I think that they will take the series in six games. This is going to be much, much different from the Rangers series in that it will be more wide open, but I trust the ability of the coaching staff and the players to read and react to what’s going on and change things up accordingly.
It’s going to be fun. Stay tuned.