The Skinny: Two Southeast Division rivals square off in what should be a fantastic match-up between two offensively capable powerhouses. The Bolts held the Southeast crown for the better part of the first half in the regular season, but a late charge and more focus by the Caps gave Washington not only the division title, but also the number one seed in the East. The bad news for Tampa is that they went 1-4-1 against Washington in the regular season, losing by a combined 19-10.
Forwards: These two teams are stacked with scoring options. Washington has Backstrom, Ovechkin, Semin, Arnott, and Knuble up front, while Tampa counters with St. Louis, Lecavalier, Stamkos, Gagne, and Malone. In the end, with the way the playoffs have gone Ovechkin and Semin are about even with St. Louis and Stamkos while Backstrom, Arnott and Knuble match up quite nicely against Lecavalier, Gagne and Malone. It will come down to the bottom six for both teams in this one.
Tampa Bay’s bottom six with Bergenheim, Purcell, Thompson, and Moore give Tampa Bay much needed depth and timely goal scoring that is needed to get the team far in the playoffs. That was evident in Tampa’s first round victory over Pittsburgh, as Bergenheim scored the game winning goal in the deciding game seven.
For Washington, Laich, Hendricks, Chimera, and Johansson have been just as pivotal in its playoff run thus far. It was Chimera who scored the game winner in game four to give Washington a 3-1 series lead and the Caps had better hope that they show up again in round two.
Defense: John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green, these are just some of my favorite things. Washington’s blue line is filled with size, skill and scoring ability. It’s something every team would kill to have on their back end and Washington is lucky to have them. Carlson, in his rookie year made some major strides to establish him as a complete defenseman. In 82 games played, the fabulous rookie scored 37 points, was a plus 21 and racked up only 44 penalty minutes. While he has only one point in the playoffs, that could change in an instant. He is also known for scoring the big goal as every Canadian hockey fan remembers his game winning goal in overtime at the World Juniors in 2010.
Who Washington does miss, is deadline acquisition, Dennis Wideman who is sidelined by a leg injury. Washington better hope that Green has shaken off the effects of yet another blow to the head after taking a slapshot off the side of the head in game five against the Rangers.
For Tampa Bay, Victor Hedman has been a revelation, and is showing why he was the second overall pick behind John Tavares in the 2009 draft. He had a bit of a rough go of it in his rookie year, but in his sophomore season, Hedman has emerged as one of the leaders and is regularly making big plays to keep the opposition scoring chances to a minimum. While his point totals aren’t exactly where many expected them to be, he’s still young and that can turn around in a heartbeat. Eric Brewer has done some nice things since coming over in a trade with St. Louis and Mattias Ohlund is still solid in his own end while chipping in here and there offensively.
Goaltending: The youngster versus the old man, a new generation against a throwback, this is one of the most intriguing goaltender match-ups of the second round. Michal Neuvirth was spectacular for Washington in the first round posting a 4-1 record with a 1.38 goals against average and a .946 save percentage. With those numbers, Semyon Varlamov has been dethroned as Washington’s goalie of choice and the reigns are Neuvirth’s the rest of the way.
For Tampa Bay, Dwayne Roloson is pure magic. Rollie has faced 256 shots in the playoffs so far and stopped 243 of them for a clip of .949%. Those kinds of numbers are awe inspiring when you think that Roloson is all of 41 years old. His salt and pepper beard being indicative of that fact, and when you factor in that he is 6-0 in the playoffs when facing elimination, that makes for one heck of a goalie.
Roloson has one thing going for him over Neuvirth and that is, he has been to the Stanley Cup Finals. Of course, if he wasn’t injured by Carolina attacking his knees in 2006, he could have lead the Oilers to a Stanley Cup.
Edge: Tampa Bay
Coaching: Bruce Boudreau has been the face of Capitals coaching for the past four seasons, for better or worse. Sometimes his mouth gets him into a bit of hot soup but that’s what makes him so enjoyable. This year, Boudreau has decided that his team wasn’t going to get very far in a run and gun system and focused more on defense and the results have been tremendous so far. When you have a guy like Alex Ovechkin buying into the hype and playing within a system, you know the coach is someone they respect and listen to.
Guy Boucher is the new hotshot behind the bench. Every level he has coached, the man has been a success. His tough but fair attitude is refreshingly welcome in Tampa Bay where you can see that the team has bought into what Boucher is selling. The Bolts taskmaster has employed a defensive style that has Tampa hanging back a bit, but knowing that Roloson is there to stop the puck, it’s been successful for them. The amazing thing about Boucher is that he is only 37 years of age, younger than his starting goalie. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of another coach who took the hockey world by storm, the late, great Pat Burns.
Series outlook: This one is a tough one to call. They say defense and goaltending wins championships. Neuvirth has matched up against Roloson quite evenly in the playoffs, but Roloson’s history gives Tampa Bay the edge, however in my estimation the Caps defense is a big advantage for Washington and with Neuvirth playing the way he has, I have a hard time picking against Ovy who looks like he just wants it.
Washington in six.
Vishal Hussain has been a hockey fan since 1987 and a Devils fan since 1990. A graduate of the critically acclaimed College of Sports Media in Toronto Ontario, Vishal has actively been a fantasy player since 2000, winning his first ever Yahoo! pool and continually finishing in the top 3 each year since. He watches every game, every night through NHL Centre Ice, both online and on TV and is an excellent evaluator of fantasy players and up and coming prospects in the league. Email Coach Hussain at [email protected].