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Breaking down the Tampa Bay Lightning-Washington Capitals Eastern Conference semifinal

Offense

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Lightning: The Lightning got contributions from pretty much everybody in the quarterfinals against the Penguins; 13 players scored and 17 registered a point. Marty St. Louis led all scorers with four goals and eight points. In the final three games of the seven-game series, the pluggers — Steve Downie, Sean Bergenheim and Dominic Moore — carried the offensive load. With those players stepping up, the Lightning has three lines that can score, especially with Ryan Malone (a key goal in Game 6) and Simon Gagne (second to St. Louis with seven points) looking healthy and playing the best they have all season. The big concern remains Steven Stamkos, who did have two goals in the first round, but both came in the 8-2 victory in Game 5. He hasn't had a goal in 17 of the past 20 games.

Capitals: Washington has the player many consider the best on the planet, Alex Ovechkin. Alex the Great didn't have a typical Ovechkin season because the Caps turned to a more defensive style. His 32 goals and 85 points were his lowest totals in his six years in the NHL. He struggled at times in the quarterfinal against the Rangers but still leads the Caps this postseason with six points in five games. Alexander Semin is Washington's next most dangerous player. He tied Ovechkin in the first round with three goals and was a Lightning killer this regular season with seven goals in four games. The Caps also have one of the league's best offensive defensemen in Mike Green, who returned for the playoffs after missing nearly two months with a concussion. Despite the layoff — as well as disappointing postseasons in the past — Green looked good against the Rangers, picking up five points.

Defense

Lightning: Granted, the Penguins were without their two best offensive weapons in the quarterfinals, but the Lightning's defense allowed only 14 goals in seven games (including one empty netter). The Lightning also allowed 247 shots, most in the first round by any team, but many were from the outside, and it gave up few odd-man breaks. Second-year defenseman Victor Hedman seems to have taken his game to another level, and veterans Pavel Kubina and Mattias Ohlund have stepped up their games as well. Kubina, because of his size (6 feet 4, 258 pounds) and strength, might get the assignment of playing against Alex Ovechkin. Then again, it could go to Eric Brewer, the team's best defenseman since coming over from the Blues in February.

Capitals: When you think of the Capitals of the past few years, you think of a run-and-gun team that is always on the go-go-go. Not this season. Perhaps influenced by their recent postseason failures, the Caps have clamped down to play a more defensive style, and as a result, they allowed the fourth-fewest regular-season goals in the NHL (while dropping to 19th in goals scored). The defensive corps, outside of Mike Green, is not loaded with big names, but it has big bodies and plays a simple, smart style. But the key for Washington's success on defense has been the forwards, who have become more responsible in their end of the ice. It used to be the Caps beat opponents by scoring more goals. Now they win by give up fewer goals.

Goaltending

Lightning: The Lightning acquired Dwayne Roloson midway through the season, and though many questioned whether a 41-year-old could be the answer in goal, Roloson silenced critics with an impressive performance in the quarterfinals, including a 36-save shutout in Game 7. Roloson stopped 243 of 256 shots against the Penguins and ran his record in 6-0 in elimination games.

CAPITALS: If the Caps had a weakness — or at least a question mark — coming into the playoffs, it was in goal. But rookie Michal Neuvirth, 23, was a standout in the first round with a 1.38 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. The Rangers weren't loaded with firepower, but Neuvirth was solid during the regular season, too, posting a 27-12-4 record with a 2.45 GAA and a .914 save percentage.

Special teams

Lightning: One could argue the Lightning made it through to the second round specifically because of its special teams. It killed off 34 of Pittsburgh's 35 power plays and scored on eight of its 27 power plays. The Lightning's 29.7 success rate on the power play is the highest of the teams still alive. The Lightning's best chance for an upset of the top-seeded Capitals likely hinges on its continued success on special teams.

Capitals: Washington's penalty-killing unit was nearly as impressive as the Lightning's in the quarterfinals. It allowed one goal on the Rangers' 20 power plays. And the unit was ranked second during the regular season. Washington's power play has scored three goals in five playoff games this year. That's not so bad. But it had 16 power-play chances, and its 18.8 percent conversion rate is not special. During the regular season, the Caps' power play, despite its talent, was ranked 16th of the 30 teams. But it certainly will bring more firepower than the Penguins did

Coaching

Lightning: For a guy who had never been in an NHL postseason, Tampa Bay's Guy Boucher looked like a veteran in the first round. He didn't panic when the Lightning fell behind three games to one, he kept the Pens off-balance with various line and scheme combinations, and he made a few key lineup changes during the series that panned out. He also raised eyebrows by rarely practicing during the series, a move that looks like it will serve the Lightning well against the Capitals with Games 2, 3 and 4 being played in four days.

Capitals: Lots of eyes are on Bruce Boudreau, who has put together solid regular seasons in Washington only to have his teams peter out in the playoffs. Credit is due for his recognition that the Caps needed to become more responsible defensively. He altered their style even though it meant the team stumbled through much of the first half. It paid off in the second half. The Caps went 16-5 down the stretch, with one of the losses coming in a meaningless regular-season finale. Still, the Caps have not handled postseason pressure well — they've lost three Game 7s at home in the past three seasons — and leadership will remain a sore subject until Washington exorcises some of its postseason demons.

Intangibles

Lightning: The Lightning went 2-3-1 against the Caps in the regular season. The wins were Dwayne Roloson shutouts shortly after the goalie was traded to from the Islanders. He won 1-0 in overtime in his first game in a Lightning uniform, Jan. 4. He shut them out 3-0 eight days later. The teams have met once in the postseason. The Lightning won in six games after falling behind 0-2 in the 2003 quarterfinals.

Capitals: The Caps are trying to advance to the East final for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 1998. No team in the playoffs is under as much pressure. The Caps entered each of the past three postseasons as a Cup favorite but lost to inferior teams each season. Anything short of a Stanley Cup would be a disappointment. This appears to be a more mature team, but it hasn't faced real adversity yet.

Breaking down the Tampa Bay Lightning-Washington Capitals Eastern Conference semifinal 04/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 12:55pm]
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