The rivalry between the two Southeast Division foes was never hotter than this season and now they will add more gas to the fire in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Tampa Bay won four straight games, after losing the first two to the Capitals, in their only other meeting in the playoffs in 2003. But eight seasons later after Washington won the first two at home easily, the teams played four intense battles in which a combined 13 goals were scored and two went to overtime. Dwayne Roloson shut out the Capitals in the first two and Washington came back with two wins, the second in a shootout March 7.
Now they play a best-of-seven series for a ticket to the Eastern Conference finals.
Both teams have the ability to put up big numbers offensively. The Lightning had four players over 50 points in the regular season and the Capitals three. Marty St. Louis led Tampa Bay in the regular season with 99 points and had eight points to pace the Lightning in the first round against Pittsburgh. Simon Gagne, who has now played a team-high 97 playoff games, and Steve Downie were next with seven points. Vincent Lecavalier also put up six points, Teddy Purcell five and Steven Stamkos, who had 45 goals in the regular season, had four. The third line of Downie, Sean Bergenheim (three goals) and Dominic Moore contributed three of the last five goals in the series. St. Louis has the best numbers against the Caps, with 62 points in 62 career games. Alexander Ovechkin led the Capitals with 85 points in the regular season and had three goals and three assists in five games against the Rangers in the first round. The Russian Rocket has 60 points in 42 career games against the Lightning. Alexander Semin has been a major threat against Tampa Bay as well, with 39 points in 33 games. Semin has seven goals in four games against the Lightning this season. Nicklas Backstrom, who had 65 points in the regular season, is also a player to watch for the Caps. Jason Arnott, acquired from New Jersey at the trade deadline, is also an experienced force at center. Caps veteran wing Mike Knuble is day-to-day with a hand injury.
The Lightning defense stood tall in front of Roloson to win the last three games of the series against Pittsburgh, allowing just four goals. The Capitals, despite injuries on the back line, allowed just eight goals in five games during the first-round series. Eric Brewer led the Lightning defense with five points, 27 blocks and averaged 25:43 of playing time, 3:29 more than anyone else, in the first round. Victor Hedman also had a strong series in his maiden voyage through the playoffs, averaging more than 22 minutes a game. Veteran Mattias Ohlund averaged over 20 minutes and had a goal, an assist and was a plus-3, and Pavel Kubina had two goals and a team-high 23 hits. The question for Washington, is who will be in the lineup on defense? Tom Poti has been out since Jan. 12 with a groin injury and may be ready to go. Mike Green, who had five points in the first round, was hit in the head with a puck in the last game of the series but should be okay to play. Dennis Wideman (leg injury) is not expected back for the start of the second round. The Caps had four defensemen average 23:15 or more, led by Scott Hannan (25:11) and John Carlson (25:09) in the first round.
It’s the 41-year old Roloson against 23-year old Czech Michal Neuvirth between the pipes. The two goalies are at the top of the NHL playoff statistics after the first round. Roloson has a .949 save percentage and Neuvirth is at .936. Neuvirth had a 1.38 goals-against average, followed by Roloson at 1.77. Roloson is 8-5-4 in 17 games lifetime against the Caps, with a 2.11 GAA and .923 SP. Neuvirth has faced the Lightning four times and is 2-0 with a 3.38 GAA and .905 SP.
Both teams have done the job all season. The Lightning was brilliant in the first round on the penalty kill, allowing just one goal in 35 tries. That was second only to Montreal, who was 21-for-21 against Boston. Forwards Nate Thompson, Moore, Bergenheim and Adam Hall have been solid on the Lightning’s kill, which was ranked eighth in the regular season. Defensemen Brewer, Hedman and Ohlund log the most minutes on the kill. Washington’s power play was 16th in the regular season and was 3-for-16 in the first round of the playoffs. Tampa Bay killed 11-of-12 Washington power plays the last four games after just 2-for-5 in the first two. The Lightning’s power play was the best among teams that advanced in the first round, converting 8-of-27 (29.6). The Bolts were sixth in the league on the power play during the regular season and the Capitals were second on the kill. Washington was 19-for-20 in the first round.