Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Southeast Showdown

#1 Washington Capitals (4-1)
#5 Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3)

Round two is set. The Tampa Bay Lightning will take on the Washington Capitals. The Lightning were down three games to one to the depleted Pittsburgh Penguins to win in game seven 1-0. What has been surprising about the Bolts win is they did it with their defense, a soft spot during the regular season. And having Dwayne Roloson in net didn't hurt either who has won 7 straight elimination games.

Both teams have some offensive punch, but haven't won their respective series with it. Instead some steady shot blocking and some key goaltending seems to mark success for both squads. What the Caps have going in their favor is the quick turn around for the Lightning. Playing a exhausting seven games against the work hard Penguins could leave the Bolts shaky.

Forwards: Advantage Draw

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Yes, I called it a draw. With the offensive guns that both teams have, it is doubtful either team really wants the game to be a wide open shoot out. Steven Stamkos was once cold for Tampa has since scored his first playoff goal and proved he can be a factor. But it is Martin St. Louis who led Tampa with 8 points will be the Bolt to stop for the Caps. Alex Ovechkin has led his team to an hard fought 5 game win with 6 points of his own. But it will be the role playing Caps that the Bolts will need to worry about in players like Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble (who may return in round 2) and Jason Arnott. When these players have scored, good things comes to the Caps.

Defense: Advantage Capitals

There is no question, the Lightning have some great defensemen. Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer have led the way for the Bolts. But their defense is only a +2 through seven games while the Capitals' D corps are a +7 through 5 games. While the Lightning defense has activated through those seven games and recorded 4 goals and 13 points in the seven game series against Pittsburgh while the Caps only mustered one goal and 8 points in five games. Still, I would take a 5 point, +3 Capitals defender Mike Green over a one point and -4 Hedman any day.

Goaltending: Advantage Capitals

(Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)
Michal Neuvirth has certainly proven he belongs in this atmosphere. Posting a playoff league best in goals against average of 1.38 and second behind Dwayne Roloson for save percentage of .946. But Roloson posted a 4-3 record while Neuvirth has only lost one game. Also Neuvy played in much closer games and stolen wins away from the Rangers more than Roloson has. The Caps net minder has the advantage, slim though it might be.

Coaching: Advantage Lightning

Guy Boucher was hired to make some sense of a mis-mangled bunch of players that were the Tampa Bay Lightning. After the owners went hog-wild with free agents and the dividends didn't pay out. Boucher brought his defensive style from juniors and it has seemed to work for the Lightning. He also turned his offensive players loose creating a juggernaut of league leaders in points and goals. Boudreau tweaked his team defense and both strategies are working for their respective clubs. I give Boucher the advantage here as he has turned his team from chaos to order. But it is a slim advantage.

Power Play: Advantage Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning trail only ousted Anaheim and Phoenix for playoff power play supremacy. First among remaining teams, the Lightning have wisely used their power play against Pittsburgh scoring seven goals in 27 chances with the extra man (29.6%). The Caps would do well not to be sucked in to taking penalties against this potent power play. They are only eleventh in 16 teams that made the playoffs with a mortal 18.8%.

Penalty Kill: Advantage Draw

Both team's penalty kill are pretty good. Tampa has the edge with a 97.1% kill percentage in front of the Caps 95%. But the Lightning faced a struggling Pittsburgh team that had no real offensive threat players on the power play with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby sitting out due to injuries. We will see how well the Bolts PK stands to some big guns in Alex Semin and Alex Ovechkin slinging shots on net (if they hit the net).

Intangibles: Advantage Capitals

Home ice with some rest could help the Caps get the early lead in this series. But the play of rookie players add depth to the Caps that the Lightning just don't have. Add some grit and toughness on the back line for the Caps, the Bolts will face an uphill battle facing their southeast division foes. If the Capitals can get their power play going and get into the head of Dwayne Roloson, the Lightning will be finding themselves chasing around the division champs and an exit from the playoffs.

Series win: Capitals

The Washington Capitals have the momentum. If the Lightning want to play a shoot out game, that shouldn't phase the Caps who have the offensive power to match. If Tampa wants to play it defensively, it is the Capitals who have been comfortable with one goal leads. Where Tampa can give the Caps fits is if Roloson gets into the collective heads of the Caps forwards, but he will face a gob more shots against the Caps than he did with Pittsburgh. I would expect the Caps to get on this team early and stay on the throttle. Maybe the Bolts win a game at home and one last ditch effort to make it interesting, but I will pick the Caps in 6 games.

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