Alex Semin rings iron. (Awesome photo credit: Greg Fiume)
Welp. That just happened.
The Washington Capitals invited the Tampa Bay Lightning for a night of pucks and fun in Chinatown. Starting off the conference semi-finals, the well rested Caps were expected to bulldoze Tampa Bay’s exhausted trap defense and open up some cracks in the Roloson wall. Did not happen.
On the board first was Sean Bergenheim, rewarded for crowding Michal Neuvirth’s crease. Marco Sturm returned fire by forcing a turnover that Alex Semin mightily wristed past Dwayne Roloson’s defenses. Jason Chimera fought below the goal line to set up Eric Fehr for the go-ahead, but that’s when the wheels came off. After a soft turnover, Steve Downie had a little help in his tying goal thanks to Scott Hannan’s stick. On a late second period powerplay, Steven Stamkos, given way too much space in the paint by John Erskine, had enough time to force one past Neuvy. And with the net cleared out, Dominic Moore sacrificed his body to settle the matter. Bolts beat Caps 4-2. Dammit.
- The Capitals were the better team for the majority of the first 40 minutes, but the Lightning did a better job exploiting the Caps’ mistakes. What should have been a swelling third period comeback ended up being a stunning collapse of Washington’s systems. Crestfall.
- Despite the loss, Washington had more scoring chances, leading Tampa 18-16.
- But the powerplay. Sheesh. The powerplay. The Caps had 4 PP scoring chances in the first period and none after. The man advantage had trouble entering the zone and generating a single shot at the end there. Yikes.
- The oft-injured Simon Gagne accrued yet another blow to the head. Following a clean hit from Scott Hannan (who was a bundle of trouble on skates tonight), Gagne lost his balance and bounced his noggin on the Verizon Center sheet. Gagne declined the stretcher, but with his history of concussions we have reason to be worried about him.
- If you’re tracking the press coverage, you might’ve seen this coming. The Lightning’s 1-3-1 trap defense obliterated the Caps’ momentum and zone entry. They forced turnovers, they kicked babies, they caused offsides. Boucher 1, Boudreau 0. Grab your sac, sir.
- John Carlson got hurt at the tail end of the second period. Don’t know why. Too cranky to look it up. Tell you what: you look it up and tell me. He skated one shift in the third.
- I’m sorry. I am butthurt over this game, and I’m taking it out on you. Not cool, I know. Someone get me a glass of milk.
- Steve Downie, dammit. One goal, one assist tonight. Dude has 8 points in his last 4 games, the best stretch of his career. He did have an elbowing penalty, but that’s still below-average douchebaggery for Steve.
- Tampa blocked 3 shots in 1st, 6 in the 2nd, and 12 in the 3rd. If we went to overtime, they probably would have blocked 24 shots. Neil would like to point out that they blocked only 2 in the scoring-chance erogenous zone, which evidences the lack of the our team’s net crashiness tonight.
- Nick Backstrom continues his ice-cold streak with three scoring chances and nothing to show for it. And man was he close on a couple tonight. When he breaks through, it’ll be a sight to behold. Alex will be pissed if someone else gets an Ovechtrick first.
This was a clear tactical victory for Guy Boucher’s flummoxing system. Bruce Boudreau, nervous– rubbing his face, and getting all splotchy in the third, was clear proof of that.
But we’re not beyond hope.
The second period Capitals were breaking through the Tampa wall and pressuring Roloson with tenacity. They were creative, physical, and attuned to one another as if they’d just finished a work retreat packed with trustfalls. If the Caps can summon that vibe on Sunday and the three games after it, this will be the exciting and winnalicious series we all deserve.
Don’t lose hope. These kinds of games have to happen in the playoffs. We’ll see you Sunday.
Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg and Ian Oland.