WASHINGTON — Lightning coach Guy Boucher never used the word "pressure" to describe the stress the Capitals must be under as they prepare for their Eastern Conference semifinal against Tampa Bay.
But that did not stop him from dusting off his psychology degree and trying to increase the, shall we say, burden on Washington as the East's No. 1 seed.
"If they don't win, it's a failure," Boucher said and added of the best-of-seven series that begins tonight at the Verizon Center, "It's Goliath against David. That's what it is. We'd better get our slingshots ready."
Consider this propaganda battle the first tactic in what is expected to be a sizzling series.
Rivalries, real rivalries, are born of such series.
Think about it. The Capitals are four-time Southeast Division champions. This season Tampa Bay mounted a challenge and in February was six points ahead in the standings, so meaningful games already have been played.
As division rivals, the teams met six times, with Tampa Bay going 2-3-1. Now add as many as seven more games in an emotional playoff atmosphere.
"Obviously," Boucher said, "you play the same team so many times, and after a while guys don't generally go have dinner together."
"It got pretty good there at the end, I think, the rivalry," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Just because both teams were vying for first place, and I think the last four games we had against them were pretty serious, serious games. But I think this takes it to a different step."
The matchups are good, too, especially in net.
Tampa Bay's Dwayne Roloson leads the playoffs among goalies with more than 100 minutes with a .949 save percentage. Washington's Michal Neuvirth is second at .946. Neuvirth leads with a 1.38 goals-against average. Roloson is next at 1.77.
Roloson has been a tough assignment for the Capitals. In five regular-season games this season, including one when he was with the Islanders, Roloson was 2-2-1 with two shutouts, a 1.37 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage.
As for the sharpening edge between the teams:
Lightning right wing Steve Downie never is shy about getting in the face of Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin. The two almost fought last season before Washington's Matt Bradley skated the length of the ice to defend his teammate.
And Ovechkin hasn't been shy about getting in the face of the Lightning, pretending in March 2009 that his stick was on fire after scoring his 50th goal at the St. Pete Times Forum, and this season showboating in front of the Tampa Bay bench after scoring a shootout winner.
"Any playoff series is fun, but this makes it more fun," Lightning wing Sean Bergenheim said. "I'm using the word 'fun' because I love these kinds of games. By fun I mean it's going to be more aggressive. There's probably going to be more chirping on the ice, but also two good teams."
"But we're the new kids on the block," Boucher said. "We're not kidding ourselves. They're the powerhouse. They're the monsters right now. We're the little naggers that are biting their ankles."
Remember, he has a psychology degree.