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Tampa Bay Lightning beats Washington Capitals 5-3 to sweep East semifinal

TAMPA

Marc-Andre Bergeron's eyes widened in surprise.

The Lightning on Wednesday played its fifth game in eight nights, and back-to-back to boot.

"Really?" the defenseman said, "I didn't even know."

What else was he going to say?

"It's the playoffs," wing Ryan Malone said. "You don't think you're tired. It's the last thing that crosses your mind."

Especially with the rush of adrenaline from a 5-3 victory over the Capitals in front of a sellout crowd of 20,835 at the St. Pete Times Forum that gave Tampa Bay a sweep of its best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal and a spot in the conference final against the winner of the series between the Bruins and Flyers.

Boston leads that semifinal 3-0 after a 5-1 win Wednesday.

The win also proved something to Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who said after the game — his team's seventh straight playoff win — he had concerns about his players' energy level because of the schedule and the absences of injured left wing Simon Gagne and defenseman Pavel Kubina.

"The character of our players," Boucher said, "surpassed the lack of energy they might have had."

This was the matchup Boucher said was David versus Goliath: the fifth-seeded Lightning (David) against the top-seeded Capitals (Goliath), who, Boucher said, had no weaknesses.

So how did the Lightning win? "With a pretty big slingshot," Boucher said.

Actually, it did it with Sean Bergenheim scoring two goals to give him seven and a tie for the lead in the playoffs.

It did it with Bergeron, the power-play specialist, scoring a power-play goal and the eventual winner 5:07 into the third period that made the score 4-2 at a time the game could have gone either way.

Malone and Marty St. Louis also scored. Dominic Moore, Teddy Purcell and Steve Downie had two assists each, and goalie Dwayne Roloson made 33 saves.

For good measure, the Lightning had a 37-36 shot advantage, the first time in 11 playoff games it outshot an opponent.

"As a team, we just stayed with what the coach has been telling us to do," Roloson said. "We just went out and played hockey, and we weren't scared we were going to lose."

The line of Bergenheim, Moore and Downie, a third line that combined for 12 points in the series, shined once again. Moore set up both of Bergenheim's goals, which came from in front of the net and gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead with 7:26 left in the second period.

"This is the first team we've played in a while that has three lines that really come at you," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Their so-called third line, they never quit."

Boudreau's advice to Tampa Bay's next-round opponent? "Don't underestimate them."

Still, when John Erskine's shot from the blue line got past a screened Roloson to make it 3-2 with 56 seconds left in the second period, and when the Lightning failed badly on consecutive power plays, there was speculation fatigue was setting in.

But Bergeron reignited the team with his knee-high blast from the blue line that made the score 4-2. "I got to the point, and I saw the goalie (Michal Neuvirth) was looking right at me, and I knew we were going to have guys screening," Bergeron said. "We want to take hard shots, and that's my good asset."

St. Louis' goal, off a burst of speed and a blazing wrist shot, made it 5-2 with 3:08 left.

No fatigue there.

"We get off days, and as the coach says, rest is a weapon," Bergenheim said. "He's very smart with that, so I didn't feel tired."

Even so, the players have today and Friday off, not only to rejuvenate but to be with their families.

"They deserve that," Boucher said.

Because a lot more work needs to be done.

Tampa Bay Lightning beats Washington Capitals 5-3 to sweep East semifinal 05/04/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2011 8:18am]
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