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For the Southeast division lead; Lightning at Capitals preview

WHERE:Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)

If the Washington Capitals approach this like any other game… Well, it may be a mistake (never underestimate an opponent), but they are also entitled to it. The Caps have lit up the Lightning for 12 goals over two games at Verizon Center so far this season. Last time around, they didn’t just outplay, out class, and outlast the Lightning, they also knocked-out* the team captain for an extended period.

Actually, they aren’t the guilty party in Vincent Lecavalier‘s broken knuckle. They were just the opponent when Vinny’s knuckle finally gave in and went snap.

It’s more than a month after the last drubbing by the Capitals. This is the last game of the regular-season series at Verizon Center… And whoever takes this game takes sole statistical possession of first place in the Southeast Division.

The general game is a big story — one of the marquee match-ups for tonight in NHL-land. For the Lightning itself (who are playing the first of back-to-back games tonight, they dance with Pittsburgh tomorrow night), the story that’s being underplayed is the looming return of forward Steve Downie from his high-ankle sprain.

With Downie’s return, the forward combos will be shaken up tonight…. I’m not even sure how. Downie not playing top-line minutes immediately (or with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis) does make a degree of sense (let him get his legs back). But where does he end up? And who does he displace? I’m not quite sure of that.

What could add another dimension to the lineup questions is if head coach Guy Boucher goes with 7 defencemen tonight. Terre’s no telling if Randy Jones will be able to play or not, so the question is a bit moot..

The other big story is that Dwayne Roloson (wearing #31 for those wondering — at least for the next two games) makes his Tampa Bay Lightning debut in net. We’ve already discussed the questions that arise with Roloson on the roster.

These two teams are really evenly matched up, and if the Lightning bring their game, this will be playoff-caliber hockey tonight. Their 23.1% power play conversion rate faces Washington’s 85.2% kill-percentage. The Caps 18.9% power play conversion rate faces the Bolts 84.9% kill-rate. But besides the special team stats: The Lightning and the Caps practically have duplicate records (23-11-5 for the Bolts, 23-12-5 for the Caps ), gave a goals-per game average very close together (3.05 for the Capitals, 2.95 for the Lightning)…

It may very well all come down to the mental game. The Caps have owned the Bolts this season. If the Lightning can’t get past the “wow” of the Capitals, they will e owned once again.

But if the team plays their own game, and Dwayne Roloson makes the stops he has to (and more), then this will be a quite a show…

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Full game coverage on SB Nation

Raw Charge on Facebook @RawCharge

How many Southeast Division teams will ultimately make the playoffs?

One 2
Two 70
Three 159
Four 26
Count’em baby! FIVE! FIVE! Five Southeast division teams! Just wait! and see what the Panthers will do in the 2nd half!! 24

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