The wait is over.
Six days after closing out the Rangers – seems more like six weeks, doesn’t it? – the Caps will open the semifinals tonight against Steven Stamkos and the Lightning at Verizon Center, where the home team is 3-0 this postseason. (Detroit, obviously, is the only other team with an unblemished record on home ice.)
Given the lengthy layoff, just about every question has been asked, almost every angle explored. Coach Bruce Boudreau’s pregame news conference, in fact, lasted a whopping 52 seconds.
It’s time finally time for some hockey.
I’ll have a full lineup closer to game time, so check back. Updates will follow after the jump in reverse-chronological order.
--Update, 19:20 third period: And the fans stream to the exits. Moore scores into an empty net to put the Bolts ahead 4-2.
--Update, 16:30 third period: So much for that power play. Caps are not 0 for 5 with a total of five shots. Heck, they probably have as many offsides with the man advantage.
--Update, 14:02 third period: Caps get a late chance to get their power playing going. Purcell off for hooking Hannan as the two raced for a touch up.
They are 0 for 4 so far.
--Update, 13:00 third period: Carlson returned for Caps. But came right back off the ice.
--Update, 5:58 third period: Clark off for holding the stick.
--Update, 5:30 third period: Desperate for a goal, Caps go with Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin.
--Update, 2:30 third period: Might have spoken too soon on Carlson. He’s on bench, but looks to have missed a shift or two. Also, one of the trainers appeared to be working on his back/shoulder/side area. Sorry, I’m 400 feet away.
--Update, start of third period: Carlson is back for the Caps. That’s a huge deal, obviously. No word on what was ailing him.
--Update, end of second period: Wow. What a turn of events. Caps dominate the final 12 minutes of the first period and the first few minutes of the second. But then they take some unnecessary penalties – three in fact – and the momentum shifts.
Downie gets a lucky one off Hannan’s stick. Then Stamkos capitalizes as Chimera sits in the box for roughing. Lightning 3, Caps 2.
The big story, however, is whether Carlson comes back out for the third period. He suffered some sort of an injury late in the period and went to the dressing room. The standout rookie did not return.
--Update, 19:28 second period: Stamkos strikes on power play, flipping rebound past Neuvirth to give Lightning 3-2 lead.
Crowd boos as Caps leave ice, obviously directed at refs. Refs booed again as they depart.
--Update, 18:00 second period: Chimera off for roughing Kubina behind TB’s goal. Chimera got his elbow up, appeared to drive Kubina’s head into glass. Kebina went to bench, grimacing.
--Update, 16:17 second period: Downie ties it up after he backhands puck off of Hannan’s stick. It went up and over Neuvy, who couldn’t have expected the change of direction.
Also, Carlson went to dressing room about the same time. Looked to be in pain.
--Update, 12:51 second period: Backstrom does a nice job drawing a hooking penalty on Kubina, effectively negating the Hendricks penalty.
Backstrom hasn’t had a point in three-plus games. Just one all postseason.
--Update, 12:06 second period: Hendricks to penalty box for interference. Steered Brewer into net.
--Update, 9:36 second period: Caps nearly get a third goal. Ovechkin stopped by Roloson. Laich backhands off post. Then Backstrom, in crease, has shot swatted away by Brewer’s stick.
--Update, 6:38 second period: Gordon whistled for slashing. He’s now tied for second (with Ovechkin) on team with 6 PIMs. Only Semin has more (8).
--Update, 5:00 second period: Marco Sturm finally has a blocked shot. Bit sliding block on Clark at point, I believe. That leaves Semin as the only Cap without one.
--Update, 1:15 second period: Caps take a 2-1 lead on what looked like a set play off of a faceoff deep in the Tampa Bay end. Johansson on draw, pushes puck to Chimera, who flips it across to Fehr in front. Fehr roofed it.
--Update, start of the second period: Gagne reportedly recovering in Lightning dressing room. Doesn’t sound likely to return tonight. Hope to get more after the game.
--Update, end of first period: All things considered, both teams should consider themselves fortunate to escape the first period having allowed a single goal.
The Caps were awful the first few minutes – rust, perhaps? – but Neuvirth bailed them out. (Bergenheim’s goal, by the way, was the first yielded by the Caps in the opening 20 minutes this postseason).
The Lightning, meantime, weren’t the same after Gagne went down with an apparent head injury. Remember, the Bolts started the game with 11 forwards and seven D. So, now they’re down to 10 forwards.
Still, despite the Caps taking control the final 12 minutes of the period, they only managed to squeeze one past Roloson (and it was a softie). That, despite getting off three shots on two power plays.
For the period, the Caps lead 14-9 in shots. They’ve also got a big edge in hits, 11-4.
As I mentioned earlier, Roloson doesn’t appear to have brought his A-game. Caps need to capitalize on that early in second.
--Update, 16:40 first period: Clark to the box for batting the puck over the glass after a wild scramble in front of Roloson, who somehow lost his mask.
--Update, 14:32 first period: Downie plays on the edge. Sometimes he crosses it. Just did, actually. Threw an elbow after a scrum in front of Caps net.
Two minutes for elbowing. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
--Update, 14:06 first period: One day after writing how Roloson was the series’ other “hot” goalie, the 41-year-old is looking awfully cold right now. Bad first goal. No rebound control. Overall, just looks shaky to me.
--Update, 13:34 first period: Goal disallowed. No shock there. Laich definitely kicked it, though he was trying to kick the puck to his stick, not into the net.
--Update, 13:34 first period: Brooks Laich goes to net, slips loose of Ohlund and kicks rebound into net. Play is under review. Doubt this one is going to count.
--Update, 10:28 first period: Schultz to the box for chipping the puck over the glass.
--Update, 10:32 first period: After viewing several replays of the Gagne injury, the consensus on press row is that the Lightning winger hit his head on the ice as he fell after the Hannan hit. I don’t want to speculate here, but he’s got a long history of head injuries. Will pass along an update as soon as we get one.
--Update, 8:28 first period: Man, is Ovechkin hitting tonight. Just smeared Kubina along the boards. Earlier, he got a piece of Lecavalier.
--Update, 7:22 first period: Gagne was driven hard into the corner boards (at Caps end) by Hannan. Hasn’t moved much since going down. They’re bringing out the stretcher, though it looks like it might not be needed.
Fans give Gagne a standing-o. He’s being helped off the ice to the dressing room.
--Update, 4:08 first period: I was just about to write how the Caps needed to wake up. Then Clark decided to make an errant defensive zone pass that Semin fired past Roloson.
Roloson, I would imagine, would like to see that one again.
Just like that, it’s Caps 1, Bolts 1.
--Update, 2:12 first period: The ‘Bolts strike first on a greasy goal by Bergenheim. Got lots of help from muckers Moore and Downie.
--Update, 1 minute until puck drop: What seems like half the Hershey Bears, plus injured Caps Dennis Wideman and Mike Knuble, just showed up in the press box.
--Update, 3 minutes until puck-drop: Boudreau’s starting lineup: Laich-Backstrom-Ovechkin; Schultz-Hannan; Neuvirth. Boucher will counter with Gagne-Lecavalier-Thompson; Brewer-Ohlund; Roloson.
It’s about to get really loud in here.
--Update, 8 minutes until game time: It’s Thunderstix night at Verizon center. Oh joy.
--Update, 20 minutes until game time: From the press box there don’t appear to be any major changes to the Caps’ lineup. Mike Green did, however, take line rushes with John Erskine instead of Jeff Schultz.
So things should look this:
As for the Lightning, looks like they’re going with seven defensemen.