Adam’s latest column for SB Nation D.C.
There is an old adage that says that “sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.” In the case of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have a 2-0 lead over the Washington Capitalsin their Eastern Conference Semifinals series, they have been playing good hockey. But if you ask Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, being good has nothing to do with it.
“I think today we got away with one,” Boucher said after Tampa Bay’s 3-2 overtime victory Sunday. “We survived one, but I don’t think we can survive two more. It can’t be about surviving. We’re not kidding ourselves. This next game, they’re going to have all their cannons firing at us.”
Boucher did not reserve his almost self-deprecating comments just for Sunday’s game. After Friday’s 4-2 win over the Capitals, Boucher deflected praise for his team once again.
It was surprising that we came in today and won one of the two,” Boucher said. “I’ll be honest, we weren’t expecting that.”
The Caps were probably not expecting to lose the first two games of the series at Verizon Center either, but at what point do both teams realize (especially the Lightning) that Tampa Bay is not lucky, but good?
The Lightning have won five straight games overall, with four of those wins coming on the road. By erasing a 3-1 deficit from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay advanced to the second round and played their fourth game in seven days Friday. Meanwhile, the Caps had six days off after vanquishing the New York Rangers in five games. Washington got off to a slow start Friday and trailed 1-0 just two minutes in, but quickly turned things around in grabbing a 2-1 lead in the second period. Rust was not a factor.
Sure, some recognition of Boucher’s fascination with luck is deserved. Steve Downie tied Friday’s game at 2-2 when a simple throw of the puck on net bounced off of Scott Hannan and past Michal Neuvirth. Steven Stamkos’ power-play goal, however, was anything but luck and the Lightning held on for the victory.
The Caps’ power play went 0-5 Friday, which is the sign of great penalty killing. But when asked about that after the game, Boucher settled on a certain word again.
“There’s always a luck element in there,” Boucher said. “We’re not kidding ourselves. They’re going to score some goals on the power play in this series for sure. I would be shocked if the next game they don’t score one.”
Washington did not score a power play goal Sunday. In fact, the Caps went 0-6, bringing their series total to 0-11. Quite frankly, there has been no luck in the Lightning’s penalty kill, which has converted on 45 of 46 opportunities during their playoff run. As Boucher said Sunday, the most important penalty killer is the goaltender. That goaltender, Dwayne Roloson, has been playing incredibly well, stopping 61 of 65 shots through two games.
But don’t tell that to him, of course.
“We got two lucky wins here,” Roloson said Sunday.
At what point does the Lightning’s “humility” get old? Despite Tampa Bay’s inspired play, not all of the Capitals’ failures can be blamed on the Lightning. The power play, as stated above, has been anemic and is 3-27 in the playoffs. Nicklas Backstrom has not scored in 15 games dating back to the regular season and had a point-blank chance Friday to tie the game that missed wide. All of these problems led the Caps to abandoning their successful defensive style for the “run and gun” hockey of old, which, as evidenced so far in this series and in seasons past, does not translate to postseason success.
Things did not get any better Sunday. Martin St. Louis’ go-ahead goal in the third period banked off of MIke Green’s skate, which was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most importantly, a horrible line change by the Caps in overtime gave Vincent Lecavalier enough room to deke Neuvirth and score the game-winning goal to send Washington down south down 2-0.
It is fitting that the Lightning’s team slogan for the season is “All In,” because that is exactly what they are doing. No one expected the Lightning to make it this far, including the Lightning themselves.
“It’s going to be very, very difficult for us, but we’re up for the challenge,” Boucher said before the series began. “I know that if they lose this, for them it’s a huge failure.”
Tampa Bay has nothing to lose Wednesday as they look to earn an almost-insurmountable 3-0 series lead over the Caps. With a star-studded roster that features a healthy mix of youth, experience, finesse and grit, the Lightning are one of the more underrated teams in the NHL. Washington should also heed the Lightning’s advice of “All In” and take a gamble Wednesday. The Caps must play their best hand Wednesday at St. Pete Times Forum, or their season, much like a bad hand at poker, will be a bust.
And there will be nothing unlucky about it.