Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: Round 3, Game 1
Time: 8:00 PM Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast / Streaming: NBCSN (link to stream), TVA Sports
Opponent SBNation Site: Japer’s Rink
A new series, a new opponent, a new game one. The Lightning and Capitals haven’t been in the same division since the realignment, but when both were in the Southeast Division, the games were quite intense. The Capitals dominated the division for a number of years, but when the Lightning made it back into the playoffs in 2010-11, they faced the Capitals in the second round, sweeping Washington.
The two teams haven’t met in the postseason since that playoff. The only players left from that Lightning team are Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. The only other player that was even drafted by the Lightning by that time was Alex Killorn, and Tyler Johnson had been signed as an undrafted free agent before the playoff run.
Now we face the old foe again. The Capitals are scary good. They are deep. They have super stars up front, and an anchor for their backend. They have one of the best goaltenders in the league playing some of his best hockey of the season. Their power play is dangerous and their penalty kill is adequate.
For the Lightning, there are two big tests: Shut down Alex Ovechkin (lol) and stay out of the box. Brayden Point and his cousins, Johnson and Ondrej Palat, will have the first crack at defending Ovechkin and his linemates of Evgeni Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson. But even if they can shut down Ovechkin at even strength, shutting him down on the power play is a much, much larger task. And even if the Lightning can shut him down, the Capitals have firepower on their second line with T.J. Oshie and Niklas Backstrom when he returns from his hand injury.
The Lightning have played great defensive hockey from top to bottom throughout the playoffs. They need to keep that edge and keep playing with that same intensity and even ratchet it up and take it to the next level to come out on top of the Washington Capitals. It starts tonight. In Amalie Arena. Be there. Be loud. Be The Thunder!
Here today to tell the other side of the story is BeccaH, Managing Editor of Japer’s Rink.
Raw Charge: The Washington Capitals’ lineup did not seem to suffer last night with Nicklas Backstrom out. Who stepped up to fill his role, and how big a hole do you think it’ll leave in the lineup?
BeccaH: Well, hopefully he’ll be back sooner rather than later – because there’s no one person who can fill the hole that Backstrom fills on this team. He’s vitally important, at all strengths and as the driver of the team’s “second” line in general; he’s able to slow the game down and it’s his orchestration that makes the team’s power play click, helps drive the P.K, etc.
That said, Lars Eller did a phenomenal job stepping into the second line on Monday, and his performance was supported by a total team effort to do the little things Backstrom usually does all on his own.
Raw Charge: Is it true that Ted Leonsis has erased all video footage of Marty St Louis game six triple-OT goal from 2003 against the Capitals? Seriously where the heck is an isolated clip of that goal? … But moving on, how great was it to finally defeat the Penguins, the team has been Washington’s biggest nightmare since the Ovechkin era began?
BeccaH: …I don’t know what triple-OT goal you’re talking about. Never happened. Nope.
It was really, really great to beat the Penguins. And you have to remember, as much as they’ve haunted the Caps during the Ovechkin era, the Penguins have been a thorn in the side of the organization long before that. Those of us, er, “experienced” enough to remember the 90s still have nightmares of blown series leads and multi-overtime losses that came before 2005. Considering this was just the second time in 11 tries that the Caps have beaten the Pens in the playoffs, and the first since 1994? Yeah, it was pretty spectacular – more so for the psyche of the fans than anything else.
But it was wonderful to see Ovi get past Sid at last, to see Trotz finally make it to the third round after narrowly losing to the Cup champs the last two seasons, etc. All good things.
Raw Charge: Who was the biggest surprise during the regular season, and did this “biggest surprise” change in the playoffs? Conversely, who has been the biggest disappointment post-season?
BeccaH: The biggest surprise during the regular season was probably the emergence of Tom Wilson as a bona fide power forward. I know, I know, he’s controversial (to put it mildly) and everyone hates him, with varying levels of logic behind that hatred. But after he picked up back-to-back suspensions in the preseason, the first of his career, he had a good talk with the DoPS and really made an effort to change his game – and the change was noticeable to those of us who watch him every night. He really reined himself in over the course of the season, and it allowed the team to trust him with a larger role - whether that meant playing on the top line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov or continuing to improve his penalty kill or whatever they needed from him.
Unfortunately that did change in the playoffs; he had some really strong games but I think the adrenalin and the heightened intensity of playoff hockey made him revert to his reckless ways and it cost him (and the team, and of course Zach Aston-Reese). People forget how young he still is; he’s still learning. I think sitting out for three games was painful, and perhaps a game too many, but I also think it will ultimately be a good lesson for him and hopefully the rest of the postseason will be smoother sailing for Wilson.
As for the biggest disappointment of the playoffs… honestly I’m not sure I have one at the moment. The Caps have played as well as I’ve ever seen them play in the playoffs, despite the dip in overall talent from previous years, and just about everyone has stepped up at one time or another. They’re getting scoring throughout the lineup, the team D has been good, the power play has clicked and the PK will improve with the return of Wilson (and hopefully Backstrom). Solid so far, top to bottom.
Raw Charge: How would you compare Washington’s depth to Tampa Bay’s, and what do you think Trotz does with line matching?
BeccaH: Defensively I’d say the two teams are about even, but Tampa pretty obviously has the edge when it comes to pure forward depth; the one place I think the Caps might have the upper hand, if everyone is healthy, is up the middle. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are both elite top-line centers on any team in the League and we’re kind of spoiled to have them both – but on the wings and as a group, the Bolts have compiled a pretty impressive lineup.
That said, Trotz isn’t really one for line matching in general; he doesn’t like to let the other team dictate who he puts on the ice. We did see him do a little of it against the Penguins, just in terms of home vs. away games – he put Jakub Vrana on the top line for part of that pivotal Game 5 win at home but moved him back down in favor of a bit more defensive responsibility for Game 6, and it seems to have worked. But he’s not afraid to throw his top line out against the other team’s top line.
Raw Charge: How do you feel about your blue lines’ capability to keep up with the Lightning’s speed?
BeccaH: I think playing the Penguins was a really good test for the Caps, another speedy team with elite offensive talent that’s maybe a step behind the Lightning this year. And the answer is, I feel fine about it as long as the whole team is committed to playing defense as a group – that’s the only way it works for this team, because the blueline depth definitely took a hit over the summer (for example their fastest defenseman is now in Vegas). But I do think there’s enough mobility on the back end to handle occasional bursts of speed, especially with the underrated addition of Michal Kempny to the blueline… they just need to avoid any scenario that has Brooks Orpik taking on Stamkos or Johnson or Kucherov, that’s all.
Raw Charge: Holtby was .907 during the regular season. In 11 games played of the playoffs, he’s back to .926. What do you think happened that “flipped his switch”? Do you expect him do maintain this SV% against a team that had the biggest goal differential last season?
BeccaH: I really think there was an element of mental fatigue that caused his slump this year. He, like Vasilevskiy, carried a heavy workload for his team and I think that – combined with a disheartening playoff loss last spring and the retirement of his goalie coach and all-around goalie guru Mitch Korn – just caused him to falter a bit. He got a break, he reset, and since coming back in Game 3 he’s been phenomenal.
I don’t know if I expect him to maintain his sv%... but he did just face the regular season’s third-highest goal-scoring team, a group that scored 23 even-strength goals in the first round, and limited them to just nine in six games (the majority of which were tips and deflections). Let’s just say if the Caps lose this series, I don’t think it’ll be because of him.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Lineup notes: [pending morning skate]
J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman — Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh — Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn — Mikhail Sergachev
Backstrom is still out.
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - TJ Oshie
Chandler Stephenson - Travis Boyd - Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson
Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos