Playoff Pregame #8: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

#1 Washington Capitals at #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Capitals trail the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series 0-2
Location: St. Pete Times Forum
6:30 PM
TV:   Local: CSN-DC (HD) (Game On!), National: Versus (HD), Canada: TSN, RDS
Radio: 106.7 FM, 1500AM
Previous Games:
Apr 29, 2011 TBL@WSH 2-4 L
May 1, 2011 TBL@WSH 2-3 L (OT)
Next Game:
May 4, 2011 WSH@TBL, 7:00 PM
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Our Bloguin Partner: Lightning Hockey Blog
Our friends at: Raw Charge

See how the Caps will have to tough it out.

Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images

The Washington Capitals head to Tampa for two games with no promise that they will return again this season.  The Caps have let the Lightning build up a 2-0 series lead while making just about every mistake in the book.  The Capitals have never been known for their discipline, and it is haunting them now.  Bad line changes, lazy powerplays, individualistic play, long shifts, and a failure to get to the front of the net have been endemic for the Caps for years.  Now that they are facing an opportunistic and disciplined team like the Lightning, they are paying for all of those mistakes in a lump. The Capitals are clearly the more talented team and the deeper team, but they are playing shinny, not professional hockey.

The Lightning know that on paper, they should lose this series.  They also know it has been two lucky goals off of Caps defensemen that have given them this 2-0 series lead.  Ultimately, though, the Lightning know that as a team, they are greater than the sum of their parts, and their faith and execution of their system gives them their only chance of success against the Caps.  The Caps have yet to figure that out.  The character of the Capitals will be decided in this game, because when they really come to play and want it more than their opponent, there is no stopping them.  They have to actually raise their level of effort and make things happen on offense, because the Lightning certainly won’t give them much. 

Injury Report:  The Capitals are not expecting to have D Dennis Wideman (leg hematoma) and D Tom Poti (groin).
-The Lightning are not expecting to have D Pavel Kubina (head), LW Simon Gagne (head), D Matt Smaby (lower body), and C Dana Tyrell (foot). 

Three Things To Watch For:

He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared:
-Sun Tzu – The Art of War
The Capitals seem to have issues with patience.  The Caps know how to beat the Lightning, they did it 4 times this season.  They need to be patient with the puck in their own end and either wait for a good opening in the 1-3-1 forecheck, or force the Lightning to try to take the puck away, which can lead to them making mistakes.  The Capitals instead have been individualistic, trying to do everything themselves one-on-one, and instead of dumping the puck deep into the Lightning zone where the big Caps forwards have the advantage over the small Lightning defenders, the solo Caps try to stickhandle over the line against superior numbers and give the puck away.  The Caps need to return to playing like a team and taking direction from the coaching staff.  It seems to work for the Lightning, perhaps it could work for the Caps, too. 

If he attempts to be strong everywhere, he will everywhere be weak:
-Sun Tzu – The Art of War
Coach Bruce Boudreau tried something last game that he had done from time to time in the regular season:  he balanced out his lines.  He took Jason Arnott down to the third line, put Marcus Johansson up to the top line, moved Nicklas Backstrom to the second line, and moved Marco Sturm down to the seldom used fourth line.  So when did the Capitals score the goals?  When the scoring line of Brooks Laich-Nicklas Backstrom-Alexander Semin line was on the ice, then again when all of the top offensive players were on the ice with the goalie pulled.  Coach Guy Boucher has figured out that if he can get his top stars all on the ice at the same time, he’ll get good results, why can’t Bruce Boudreau figure this out?  It might not be time to re-unite the Care Bears line (Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin), but by creating a super-line or two of offensive players, the Capitals can at least be strong somewhere and they might get a goal out of it, and it will force the Lightning defensemen to try to be strong everywhere during their shift.  In fact, the Laich-Backstrom-Semin line looked good, as did the combo of Arnott and Ovechkin. 

Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory:
-Sun Tzu – The Art of War
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher has been able to modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and has won two games against the Caps.  He is what Sun Tzu would call a “heaven-born captain.”  In stark contrast, the Capitals have not figured out this problem after an entire year:  their powerplay isn’t working.  The Caps keep putting the same players in the same positions with the same tactics, and despite all of their talent, they have not been able to replicate the success they had in the 2009-10 regular season.  The Capitals also have not been able to adjust their neutral zone tactics from the Rangers series to an entirely new opponent with a different system, and it has cost them in terms of odd-man rushes for the Lightning and in not getting puck possession in the Lightning zone.  The Capitals have to realize they are not going to beat the Lightning by scoring just two even-strength goals a game, they’re going to have to drive the net hard and get their noses dirty.  They will also have to work especially hard on the powerplay, since a change in tactics obviously isn’t coming.  The Caps keep using the same stale umbrella even though 2 of the Caps’ 4 goals in this series have been set up from behind the net. 

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images