Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 1: Lightning 4 - Capitals 2

Seen a lot of those games over the years, Caps fans.

A lot of ‘em…too many, in fact.

Team comes out hesitant, finds their legs, but can’t stuff a loose puck in to save their lives. Dominates play for long stretches, but an own-goal and a power play goal at the end of a period later, find themselves behind. Then things get away from them as they try to catch up. Too much freelancing, too much individual play, too much forcing things. And their own power play stinks.

Yup…seen that kind of game too many times with the Caps on the short end of things.

And that’s how it unfolded last night as the Caps dropped Game 1 of the Eastern Conference seminfinal to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2, last night at Verizon Center. The Caps came out tentative, trying to find holes in the Lightning 1-3-1 defense, and their tentative play cost them an early goal, Sean Bergenheim getting on the board in the third minute. Alexander Semin got it back when Marco Sturm tipped an attempted exit pass out of the Lightning zone by Brett Clark. Semin scooped up the loose puck and wristed to toward the Tampa cage. Goalie Dwayne Roloson could not get the wickets closed in time, and the puck snuck through his pads to tie the game.

It stayed that way until the second minute of the second period. Off a faceoff in the Tampa end, Jason Chimera won a short dash to the end boards for a loose puck and centered it to Eric Fehr, who wasted no time wristing it over Roloson’s glove to give the Caps their only lead of the night.

The lead, and the game, fell apart in the last four minutes of the second period. Tampa tied the game on an own goal by the Caps. Michal Neuvirth played the puck along the boards, but no Cap could corral it. That left it for Teddy Purcell to gather it along the right wing boards, whereupon he fed it to Vincent Lecavalier in the middle. Lecavalier poked it to Steve Downie, and Downie, trying to lay it off for a teammate, backhanded the puck off Scott Hannan’s stick and past Neuvith.

Three minutes later, with Chimera in the box for a roughing call, Eric Brewer circled down from the left wing and threw the puck at the net. Neuvirth made the first save, but left a loose puck at the near post. Steven Stamkos banged in the puck with barely a half-minute left in the period.

That goal seemed to take the discipline out of the Caps, who spent the third period more or less playing into the Tampa Bay defense and failing to convert power plays. The Lightning got an empty netter from Dominic Moore with 40 seconds left, and that was that…the kind of game that made Caps fans the way they are.

Other stuff…

-- A disallowed goal, an own goal, terrible luck on those chances that were pinballing around the crease, and the Caps still lost by a goal (empty netter notwithstanding). If the glass is half full, you say that the Caps played badly and still almost pulled out a win. In the glass half empty perspective, the Caps blew an opportunity to shove the Lightning in a hole early with poor play that will come back to haunt them as the series goes on.

-- Something certainly seems wrong with Nicklas Backstrom. Offensively there is just nothing to his game right now. Whether it is just a long run of bad luck or an injury, he just doesn’t look anything close to right out there.

-- With all those pucks pinballing around the Lightning crease last night, you can see that the Caps miss Mike Knuble desperately. His game is tailor-made for the sort of “throw pucks at Roloson’s feet” strategy. Anything springs loose, he’d have a chance.

-- Caps had 23 shots blocked in the game… 14 of them came in the third period.

-- Wouldn’t attach too much importance to a loss here. The Caps are 3-3 all time in series when they lose Game 1 at home.

-- Five power plays…the Caps have to convert when they get that many chances.

-- But it’s hard to do when you get only five shots on those five power plays in 8:45 of power play time, and none of those shots coming from Alex Ovechkin. If the Lightning are going to cheat to cover Ovechkin, other Caps have to make them pay.

-- John Carlson skated 36 seconds (two shifts) in the last 25:23. He is “day-to-day.” His absence, along with those of Tom Poti and Dennis Wideman, would put the Caps in a considerable hole, obviously.

-- 48 shot attempts for Tampa isn’t bad defense by the Caps; the goals were a bit fluky. On the other hand, 61 attempts isn’t bad, but getting 23 of them blocked is a problem.

-- Can’t even say that Neuvirth was “outplayed” by Roloson. One has to respect that Roloson doesn’t give up on a play, but he left a lot of loose pucks lying around and wasn’t doing a very good job of finding them. The Caps have to do a much better job of finishing. Brooks Laich (one shot on goal, three attempts) is important here with Knuble out.

In the end, it’s hard to get worked up over this loss with this team. In years past, this is the kind of loss that could set the tone for a series against a playoff opponent. Missed chances, fluky goals, usually Penguin uniforms. This Caps team is a different team. The Caps did not play especially well last night, but then again, neither did Tampa Bay. And before Tampa fans get all fat and happy about taking home ice away, it’s first to “four,” not first to “one.”

But it would be nice to stop the marches to the locker room because of injuries, not to mention lighting the lamp on a power play.