The Washington Capitals have finally thrown the monkey off their backs and progressed past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the road does not end here. Next up on the big stage are the infamous Tampa Bay Lightning, Atlantic Division leaders.
Tampa has always been a force to be reckoned with, especially with the services of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. What makes their club so successful is the way the other players have stepped up and produced. Notable names are Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, and Victor Hedman. Most of all, their net minder Andre Vasilevsky has proven himself to the league as an elite goaltender. Previously the backup for Ben Bishop, Vasilevsky was already determined to take over the starter job in Tampa. His square style and mind-bottling desperation saves help him plead his case to the league.
Tampa is a complete package kind of hockey team. They are fast, fluent, tough, and seasoned; all aspects that make a well put-together playoff squad. A few players that bring the grit are guys like Ryan Callahan, Cedric Paquette, and Chris Kunitz. All of these men have proven themselves tough customers and are sure to try and set the tone early in game one.
The Caps need to bring their game as they did with the Pittsburgh Penguins, lots of scoring chances and smart plays. The boys obviously are blessed with the performances of Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov, but the returns of Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom are sure to reignite a flare to the lineup. Lines will most likely reform back to the way they were in the Semi Conference Finals, only with minor tweaks:
Defensive pairings won’t change, consistency is key at this point in the game. Top pair Michal Kempny and John Carlson have been stellar this post-season with a combined point total of 12 and a plus/minus of +4. While Kempny isn’t contributing much on the scoresheet, he compliments Carlson’s two-way play very well with his stay-at-home defensive style. He makes the defensive plays that deteriorate opponent’s score chances, takes the simple option and has a great first pass off the breakout. Carlson has also had a milestone regular and post-season thus far. With fans hoping the Caps re-sign him before the free-agent market window, he sure is adding hundreds to his potential deal with every play and point he contributes to the Caps’ defensive and offensive success. Look for these two to make a key difference this series.
Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson will be critical weapons this series for the Caps against the Bolts. The team needs Ovi on the scoresheet as much as possible. This is where production is needed from the scorers and playmakers, and Alex knows that. This is a bigger stage than he has ever been on in the NHL and I would look out for him to put everything he has out on the ice. Wilson can also make a huge impact in this best of seven. The team needs him to be just as aggressive, if not more aggressive than he was in the Pittsburgh series. With him on the ice, everyone will be looking over their shoulder and looking out for Whip. Avoid the dumb penalties, don’t let them get away with cheap shots, and be that intimidating and reckoning physical force on the playing field.
This’ll be a tough, competitive series. Caps must dig deep here if they want to knock off the Bolts and progress the Stanley Cup Finals. As always, we will be providing updates and insight via Twitter. Give us a follow @InColdPlacesDC and follow my personal @Jurky88. Go Caps go!