Maybe you’re upset the Capitals didn’t draw the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. Maybe you wanted to get a crack at redemption in Montreal.
On the surface, a matchup against the Tampa Bay Lighting might not seem as exciting, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find storylines abound.
“It should be interesting, they’ve got more gamebreakers for sure than the Rangers had,” said Bruce Boudreau.
Start with Steven Stamkos whose 45-goal season was diminished only by a sluggish second half. Add to that Hart nominee Martin St. Louis and veteran forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone and the Lightning possess a formidable lineup.
Stamkos’s hot start spurred the Lightning into first place in the Southeast, but it became brutally clear Tampa would need a workhorse in net. On New Year’s Day, they acquired 41-year old Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders in a move paying huge dividends to Guy Boucher’s club.
Roloson not only played a pivotal role in the team’s playoff push, but is also second in the postseason to none other than Michal Neuvirth in GAA and save percentage.
The battle of the goalies could be the deciding edge in this series. Neuvirth stymied the Rangers, allowing eight goals in five games prompting Boudreau label him “not ordinary.”
Roloson is old enough to be Neuvirth’s dad but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming the rock the Lightning didn’t have with Dan Ellis or Mike Smith.
“I think he’s been really good,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “Like last night, you can see he was the player of the game. [A hot goalie] — those kind of things you need.”
Roloson stopped 36 shots in a Game Seven win over Pittsburgh as the Lightning completed a comeback after trailing 3-1 in the series. In total, he faced 256 shots and only let 13 slip past; a sensational performance with his back against the wall.
“He’s known as a guy who just battles real hard,” said Eric Fehr. “He’s kind of old-school. When you go in his crease, he’s trying to hack at you and punch you and do all those different things so he’s a bit of a different goalie than we’ve seen but he gets the job done.”
While the Rangers played a tight game in front of Henrik Lundqvist, Roloson doesn’t receive quite as much backup from his defensemen. To compensate, Boucher often employs a passive strategy on the forecheck with his forwards supporting the defensive corps.
With all the weapons at their disposal, Tampa Bay has an explosive offense, but Boucher had them tone it down in favor of clogging up the neutral zones. His unique approach has resulted in a team with an ability to play in both low-scoring affairs and offensive shootouts.
“When we played them earlier I think they were still adapting to a new coach and stuff like that,” said Jason Chimera. “It kind of was like a new system that [they] perfected towards the later half of the season.”
During the Capitals midseason swoon, the Lightning emerged as the Southeast division leader. They won nine out of 13 games in January before dropping seven of 10 in March to lose their grip on the Southeast division.
The Capitals recaptured the Southeast with a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers on Mar. 6 and padded their lead the next day with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Lightning, but Tampa’s first round performance has Chimera taking notes.
“Roloson has played really well for them and I think it’s a combination of [him] and them perfecting their style of their play,” he said. “There’s a lot of key factor going into that but they are playing a hell of a lot better.
Yet if Washington can find a way to enter the offensive zone, their chances will come.
“I think we just have to do the same thing we did with Lundqvist,” said Backstrom. “A lot of traffic in front of the net and try to shoot for rebounds.”
Scoring opportunities down low will also give the Capitals a chance to disrupt Roloson’s game with some physicality. In the regular season, he baffled Washington, shutting them out in a pair of games.
Not until Matt Hendricks crashed into him during a Feb. 4th. game did Roloson show any measure of weakness. He lost his cool, punching Hendricks several times with his blocker. The Capitals subsequently scored five goals in the game and won the last two meetings between the teams.
Take what you want from the incident, but I’d expect the Capitals to have it logged away for possible reuse in this series.
Boudreau thinks otherwise.
“When you’ve got the experience he has, he’s not going to flip out if you go near him,” he said.
Time will tell and if the goaltending matchup between Roloson and Neuvirth is any indicator, there will be plenty of it to be had.