Monday, May 02, 2011

Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 2: Lightning 3 - Capitals 2 (OT)

There is not so much as a sliver of daylight separating the backs of the Washington Capitals and the proverbial “wall.” They are up against it now, heading to Tampa down two-games-to-none after dropping tonight’s Game 2 at Verizon Center, 3-2 in overtime.

Vincent Lecavalier sent the Lightning home happy at 6:19 of the extra session when he buried a feed from Teddy Purcell behind goalie Michal Neuvirth after the Caps got caught with too many men too far from the play (the result of a line change that was painful to watch), Mike Green being the only Cap in the defensive zone as the play unfolded.

It was Lecavalier opening and closing the scoring, his first goal of the game coming in the last minute of the first period, one-timing from the right wing circle a feed from Martin St. Louis. Brooks Laich got it back in the fifth minute of the second period, the play being a product of something the Caps just haven’t seemed to do quite enough of – pass bodies in front of goaltender Dwayne Roloson. Nicklas Backstrom skated the puck into the Tampa Bay zone leading a 3-on-2 rush. He crossed behind Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin as the latter two headed to the net. Backstrom wristed the puck on goal, and with the Caps enjoying an advantage of numbers low, Laich steered the puck past Roloson to tie the game.

Martin St. Louis gave the Lightning the lead once more early in the third period when a snap shot he took from the left wing circle looked to deflect off the skate of Mike Green and behind Neuvirth. Roloson almost made the one-goal lead stand up, but with goalie pulled and the Caps having six attackers on the ice, Alex Ovechkin converted a feed from Jason Arnott at the goal mouth with 68 seconds left to tie the game and send it into overtime. The Caps could not find that last goal on any of the five shots in overtime, and it took just one defensive breakdown to send the Caps’ backs hard by that proverbial wall.

Other stuff…

-- Tampa Bay has six goals in regulation in this series, three of them scored in the last minute of a period (one an empty netter)

-- 2-for-9…0-for-11. Eight shots… 17 shots. Tampa power play… Caps power play. How utterly fitting that what held the Caps back on offense all year (which, frankly has virtually nothing to do with their “defense-first” approach to five-on-five play), killed them in the first two games in this series. Tonight it was 0-for-6 and 12 unproductive shots on goal for the Caps power play.

-- We are going to live a long time and never figure out why the most dangerous goal scoring machine since the lockout is sitting 60 feet from the net at the point on the power play…it didn’t work in the regular season, and it hasn’t worked in this series.

-- We focused on the “Young Guns” in the pregame, so what did they do? Eighteen shots on goal (34 attempts), one goal, one assist. That’s two goals, one assist, and a combined minus-4 in two games. We’ll leave it to you, dear reader to conclude whether that is good enough.

-- Meanwhile, the Lightning big guns – Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos… 4-3-7, even, in the two games.

-- 89 games into the season, and the simplest of things – a line change – was all the break the Lightning needed to spring a two on one in overtime. Yes, it was the “long” change, but that’s part of the game.

-- Tough night for Jeff Schultz. He was on the ice for all three Lightning goals, although he was on for all of five seconds for the last one.

-- The irony of it… it was the substitute for the injured Pavel Kubina – Randy Jones – who got the last play started from deep in the Tampa Bay end with the quick up to Purcell at the Caps’ blue line. Jones played a grand total of 6:25 in the game.

-- Trip down Memory Lane…the Caps won Games 1 and 2 in Tampa in 2003 rather handily (3-0 and 6-3). They then went on to lose Games 3-6 and the series. On the other hand, the Caps were 3-for-9 on the power play in Games 1 and 2 in that year (all the goals in Game 2). They were 2-for 18 in Games 3-6.

-- There is a disturbing theme emerging in this series, one that has nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with attitude. Entirely too much attention – bordering on fear, in fact – is being paid to the “intimidating” 1-3-1 defense of the Lightning. When did the Tampa Bay Lightning become the NHL version of the Steel Curtain defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The concept seems to have gotten into the minds of fans, if not those of the team. The fact is, the Caps are a more talented, deeper team than the Lightning, but they seem to lack the “swagger” gene that imposes that knowledge on their opponent.

In the end, there are two elements of this series that are intertwined, neither of which is good news for the Caps. First, there is the matter of the Caps Young Guns getting out produced by the Tampa Bay big guns. Backstrom might still be injured or re-injured, Green isn’t long back from injury and has had an interesting playoff so far (if taking a puck off the side of your helmet in an earlier playoff game confirms your notion of “interesting”).

The other is that the Caps don’t seem to have an answer, or at least a push-back for the style Tampa Bay is playing, and more than the execution of it, the notion of it seems to be in the Caps’ heads. But keep this fact in mind. The Caps scored 154 goals at even strength during the season (145 at 5-on-5, nine at 4-on-4). That is an average of 1.88 even strength goals per game. Thus far, the Caps have scored four even strength goals in two games – an average of 2.00 a game (6-on-5 goals, for purpose of league statistics, are even strength goals). This notion of the 1-3-1 being the be all and end all of the Lightning success is overstated. This series is turning on special teams. Tampa has two one-goal wins (yes, there was the empty netter in Game 1, but it did not influence the decision). They have two power play goals, the Caps have none. If that doesn’t change in Games 3 and 4 in Tampa, well…

This series marked the 17th time that the Caps opened a seven-game series with Games 1 and 2 at home. It is only the second time that the Caps dropped both home games to open the series. Let’s hope things end as happily as the first time it happened (in 2009 against the Rangers), although at the moment it is hard not to think upon the fact that tonight’s game might have been the last game at Verizon Center this season, and if it was, it will be a very, very unpleasant summer ahead.

1 comment:

JonWan said...

Tough loss to digest. definitely a better effort than game one though. Here is a snippet of joy/entertainment I found. Check out Dean Evason's reaction to the tying goal. Looks like he wants to kill the Caps trainer Greg Smith...

Lets hope Ovechkin's declaration comes true. Win 2 and right the ship!