The Tampa Bay Lightning asserted their dominance over their Southeast Division rivals, sweeping the top seeded Washington Capitals in four straight games. When previewing this series, I wrote the following:
The Washington Capitals will be playing a very familiar team, as the Lightning are built in their own image. This is a great litmus test for Alex Ovechkin and his Capitals, and the results will be fascinating. As long as Washington continues to stay the course and resists the trap of playing fast and loose with the Lightning, they should win this series. The Lightning are far too inconsistent on offense to win four games.
Washington in seven games.
Though this series was a sweep, it was far from a blowout series. The first three games of the series were all very close and could have gone to either team. Washington either led or was tied at halfway through three of the four games in the series, and lost an overtime game on a beautiful pass from Randy Jones that went down the entire length of the ice and right to Teddy Purcell's stick. The Lightning were on their game and deserved to win, certainly, but the Capitals made this series much closer than it appears.
What Happened To Washington?
They ran into the 41 year old buzzsaw named Dwayne Roloson. Roloson is enjoying a renaissance season that started with the New York Islanders. Tampa Bay knew that goaltending was their major weakness and made the trade for Roloson early in the season. He has been incredible these playoffs, posting a .941 SV% and 2.01 GAA, both shattering his career numbers.
The Capitals also stuck with their regular season gameplan, for better or worse. After averaging 31.3 shots/game in the regular season and first round against the New York Rangers, the Capitals saw a modest increase to 33.25 shots/game against the Lightning. With Roloson playing this well, the Capitals failed to create more chances against the Lightning goalie and thus limited their chances to score in the series.
The Capitals defense failed to learn from the first round series, when the Pittsburgh Penguins used a suffocating blue line to limit the Lightning's chances and frustrate their offensive rhythm. Washington took pride all season in their new defensive mentality, and failed to adjust it against a high-powered offense like Tampa Bay. The Penguins held the Lightning to 25.6 shots/game in their series; the Capitals allowed 28.25 shots/game.
The biggest fault with the Capitals lies with their top offensive talent. Their defensive mentality relied on scoring from Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green. Their total contribution for this series: 4 G, 5 A, and a -5 rating. When your top four forwards are -5 for a series, you aren't likely to win.
What Have We Learned About Tampa Bay?
They found their consistency. After falling behind to the Penguins 3-1 in that series, the Lightning have turned on their offense; they've now won seven straight games and scoring a total of 29 goals. Only twice in those games have they scored less than four goals. Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier are carrying this team offensively right now, and they're starting to resemble the juggernaut from the first half of the season. It's been a remarkable performance, considering 40+ goal scorer Steven Stamkos has not played to his potential in this postseason. If he wakes up, watch out NHL.
You cannot say enough about Dwayne Roloson. The veteran is looking invincible in goal right now, and his performance is reminiscent of the 2006 Edmonton Oilers team that entered the playoffs as an eight seed and went all the way to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Playoffs...where they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes because of a Roloson injury in that series. At 41 years young, he has been a gamechanger in net for Tampa Bay. If he continues to play well, and the Lightning can maintain this offensive consistency, the Lightning are heading back to the Stanley Cup Finals as the Eastern Conference representative.