The Washington Capitals are heading into Wednesday’s matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a clear understanding. The Lightning are the team to beat heading into the postseason and after the teams’ playoff series last year, regular season games between the two squads aren’t being played down.
Capitals forward Jakub Vrana compared the matchup to “a little bit of war." Nicklas Backstrom acknowledged it was a great test at this point in the season, and a “test you want to beat.” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said the game is a challenge and will “be a great battle.”
“These guys are pushing to win the Stanley Cup and they are doing everything they can, the same as us, and that is what makes it a little special tonight,” said Vrana after the Capitals optional morning skate Wednesday morning. “Every game against these guys is going to be fast and physical and a playoff type of game.”
After the Capitals lost to the Lightning, 6-3, in Tampa Saturday in the first of three games between the squads in a two-week span, their second meeting in Wednesday’s game will be a chance for revenge. The two teams will conclude their regular-season series March 30 in Tampa.
“Maybe this one is a little bit more exciting after the last game we lost in their [place], we have some history with this team from last year too so it is going to be a good battle," Vrana said. "Feels like a little bit of war too because these guys looked really desperate last game and now we are at our home barn and we will definitely want to give it to them back.”
Washington is heading into tonight’s game on the second half of a back-to-back, beating the New Jersey Devils 4-1 Tuesday night. For the Lightning, they’ve played just once since Saturday’s meeting — a win over Arizona on Monday night. The win secured the franchise’s first-ever President’s Trophy.
Against a more-rested Tampa team, Reirden emphasized the need for his players to start fast, unlike Saturday’s matchup when the Capitals fell behind 2-0 early and the Lightning opened a 3-1 advantage by the end of the first period. Backstrom emphasized the need for the team to come out “a little hungrier” and try to play a more physical game.
“We have to make sure we are ready to start the game when the puck drops,” Reirden said Tuesday. “I liked our second and third for the most part against them. For the first, they were playing at a high pace. They have a little animosity given last year’s loss to us and we expected their best there in Tampa and they are going to feel the same way again [today].”
With fatigue potentially a factor in the second game of a back-to-back, Reirden said he felt like he was able to use a lot of players against the Devils and spread out the minutes in order to get the team better prepared to play Tampa Bay. With Pheonix Copley in the net against the Devils, Braden Holtby will start against Tampa Bay.
“I think we just need to keep getting better,” Capitals forward Brett Connolly said. “They played us really well in Tampa. It was a tough game. I don’t think we did ourselves any favors that game so it will be good to get right back out there. … Our building will be loud and lively and our fans will be energetic.”
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