Playoff Pregame #6: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

#1 Washington Capitals (48-23-11) vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning (46-25-11)
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Location: Verizon Center
7:00 PM
TV:   Versus (HD), TSN
Radio:   106.7 FM, 1500AM
Previous Games:
Nov 11, 2010 TBL@WSH 6-3 W
Nov 26, 2010 TBL@WSH 6-0 W
Jan  4, 2011 TBL@WSH 0-1 OTL
Jan 12, 2011 WSH@TBL 0-3 L
Feb  4, 2011 WSH@TBL 5-2 W
Mar  7, 2011 WSH@TBL 2-1 W (SO)
Next Game:
May 1, 2011 TBL@WSH, 7:00 PM
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Our friends at: Raw Charge

It’s Just a Drizzle! Read On!

The Drizzle

The Caps have been waiting for their next opponent since they closed out the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon.  The Caps haven’t had a break this long all season, only the All-Star break compares, and they’ve had plenty of time to rest and recover, not to mention practice.  Speaking of practicing, the Capitals drew their black aces from the Hershey Bears upon their early playoff exit, which will give these young players a chance to keep practicing with the big club while the Caps haev a little extra depth, just in case. Mathieu Perreault, Steve Pinizzotto, Braden Holtby, and Patrick McNeill will be with the team for the remainder of the playoff run, while Andrew Gordon will join the team once his ankle injury heals.  The Caps should be eager to play now, so expect a disciplined Caps team to have plenty of energy for the Lightning tonight. 

Meanwhile, the Lightning are coming off an emotional 7-game series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins that saw them overcome a 3-1 deficit.  The Lightning didn’t even return to Tampa after Wednesday’s Game 7 in Pittsburgh, opting to fly straight to Washington.  The Lightning also recalled their black aces, as they pulled defenseman Mathieu Roy and forwards Mike Angelidis and Marc-Antoine Pouliot from Norfolk of the AHL.  The Lightning should be road weary once the adrenaline from their victory wears off, and the lack of practice or prep time should not bode well for them in Game 1.  Look for the Lightning to be inspired but sloppy. 

Injury Report: Capitals’ RW Mike Knuble (hand), D Dennis Wideman (leg hematoma), and D Tom Poti (groin) are out.
-The Lightning are missing D Randy Jones (ankle).  D Matt Smaby (lower body) is day-to-day. 

Three Things To Watch For:

Schitzo-frenetic enemy:  While the Capitals know the Lightning well, that does not mean the Lightning are an easy team to prepare for.  The Bolts can play two very different styles depending on their opponent and the situation in the game.  They have a fast-paced, aggressive style of play that suits their high-flying offensive stars like Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.  Their contrasting style is a 1-3-1 defensive scheme that clogs up the neutral zone and forces a dump-in from the blue line, and it can be very difficult to break.  The Capitals, fortunately, are particularly well suited to face either of these styles and are better at both of them than the Bolts, the issue will be whether the Caps are ready for the Bolts’ style of play on any given night.

Semin-Sational:  After an excellent first-round series, Alexander Semin is licking his chops as he prepares to play the Lightning.  Good Sash has feasted on the Bolts this season, with hat tricks in two November games.  Even after the Lightning got a new goalie, Semin still managed a big goal in March to end the season series with 7 goals, 9 points, and a +6 rating in 4 games.  Look for Semin to be active around the net and to get on the board quickly.  Oh, and Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom each have 10 points in 6 games against the Bolts this year, too. 

Ancient Guardian:  The Tampa Bay Lightning knew they had a playoff-caliber team in October, but they were still lacking between the pipe.  Rookie GM Steve Yzerman pulled the trigger on the trade that brought 41-year old goaltender Dwayne Roloson to Tampa from the New York Islanders, and has it ever paid dividends.  Not only did Roloson post 2 shutouts in his first 4 games (both against the Caps), he stabilized the back end and allowed the Lightning to post a good record heading into the playoffs.  He was also a major reason the Lightning were able to take down the Penguins in 7 games.  That said, tonight will make Roloson’s 60th game of the season and his 8th in the last 16 days, including a double overtime game.  The Caps have had some issues scoring against Roloson this year (Roloson has a 1.38 GAA and a .954 save pergentage), but the Caps are still 3-2-0 against him, mostly because the Caps can expose the average defense playing in front.  The Caps have shown they can get under his skin, if they can keep wearing him down this could be a short series. 

Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images
Matt Hendricks fighting Steve Downie, 2/4/11