Washington Capitals - Tampa Bay Lightning Game 1 preview

Apr 29, 2011

Washington Post sports reporter Katie Carrera discussed the Capitals' Round 2 series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which starts tonight at the Verizon Center.

Welcome back for another playoff live chat. After what seems like months of waiting for this second-round series to begin we're finally only hours away from Game 1 between the Capitals and Lightning.

I'm sure there's plenty of questions out there so fire away everyone. 

So how have the practices been? Are they skating hard keeping in game shape? Just wondering since it's been a long time between games.

The practices have been up-beat, some more intense than others but the Capitals have been doing more than just going through the motions. There's been a workmanlike attitude to everything at KCI this week and the players have been in good spirits.

Earlier in the week there were plenty of contact drills and systems work to tighten up on some of the smaller details that make Washington successful. That kind of reinforcement is important between series, because in the middle of a best-of-seven series there often isn't time for a lot of heavy practice. And on Thursday, Boudreau even put the players through a brief bag skate following a primarily special-teams practice.

Which Lightning player are Caps fans going to "hate" the most after this series is over: Steve Downie or Martin St. Louis?, and why?

If you mean 'hate' as in are annoyed or aggrevated by their ability to be an agitator that would likely be Steve Downie. He can be an important, gritty part of Tampa Bay's offense when he's not getting wrapped up in the extracurricular stuff and it will be interesting to see what kind of run-ins he and Matt Hendricks -- they had a few tussles this year -- have.

If you mean 'hate' because he puts pucks in the back of the net or sets up other people to do so regularly, it could be any number of players including St. Louis. Downie can be a scoring threat but the Lightning stars like St. Louis, Stamkos and Lecavalier may torture Caps fans more in that sense. 

Might as well get this out of the way right away: Which arena is louder, Verizon Center or St. Pete Times Forum?

Haha, somehow I doubt anyone on either team will comment on the crowd noise in this series unless to praise their own fans. I've never covered a playoff game at the Forum so I can't judge that quite yet, but Verizon Center has been consistently loud throughout the postseason. I'm not expecting anything different from the home crowd tonight. 

Katie, What role, if any, is Tom Poti going to have if/when he returns? Thanks, Jon in Reston

Right now I think this question is more of an 'if' scenario. Poti hasn't skated the past two days and at this point hasn't played in a game in over four months.

Even before the start of the playoffs, Boudreau said it would be tough for Poti to get back in the fold unless injuries mounted and I'm inclined to believe that's still the case. It's hard to know if Poti would even be able to play if the Capitals would need him given that his groin muscle pull continues to bother him during the workouts he participates in now even after the long layoff. 


I think this series will come down to special teams in a big way... do you think the Caps PK will have what it takes to hold Tampa at bay?

I agree that special teams will be particularly important in this series. The Capitals' penalty kill has been solid all season, with only some isolated hiccups (that mid-January game in Florida comes to mind), and I believe it can continue humming along. 

That said, the Tampa Bay power play is certainly a much different and dangerous animal than that of the Rangers. Realistically, if the Lightning get opportunities on the man-advantage they will probably capitalize on them at some point regardless of how strong the PK is. So it will be in Washington's best interest to stay disciplined and avoid lazy penalties. 

What is yours for the series? how many games?

In today's paper, I wrote Capitals in seven and I'll stick with that. I think this is will be a long and tight series between familiar and evenly-matched teams, but that the Capitals will find a way to win and advance. 

Do you think we'll see the Caps d-core hang around in their defensive zone until a forechecker initiates in order to combat the Bolts 1-3-1 system like they've done in the past? Did you see any of this in recent practices?

I'm not sure if we will see the Capitals play that game of chicken against Tampa Bay quite the way they did on Feb. 4, because while players were asked about it none are going to give away the exact strategy Boudreau has in mind. It may be something Washington tries if it can establish a lead, though, in order to force the Lightning to take more chances and draw them out of their shell a bit.

Is Roloson really that hot, and capable of pulling a Halak on the Caps...or was the Penguins attack just anemic enough to make a good goalie look great?

Toward the end of that series the Penguins offense couldn't buy a goal but Roloson does have a reputation of playing well in the postseason. Roloson has also played extremely well against the Capitals for the most part this season, both with Tampa Bay and as a member of the New York Islanders. 

The game that the Capitals were able to put several pucks behind Roloson was the same one that the veteran netminder punched Matt Hendricks in the head after the forward made repeat trips into the blue paint. So don't be surprised if the Capitals try to make sure Roloson has plenty of company in the crease all series long to prevent him from getting in a flow.

Another interesting note where Roloson is concerned would be how much this quick turnaround impacts him. He's the oldest goaltender in the playoffs at 41 and after a lengthy seven game series may need to make four starts in six nights. We'll probably have a better idea of how Roloson is faring when the back-to-back contests come up in Game 3 and 4 and if the Lightning start him in both.


Will Wideman play in this series? If so who sits?

That probably depends on how long the series goes and if Wideman's recovery continues to steadily progress. I spoke with Wideman after his workout this morning and the defenseman said he's getting closer. The range of motion in his leg is almost back to normal but he's still working to build up the strength and skating power that he had before suffering the hematoma. 

Wideman said he hopes he would be able to return at some point in this series but wouldn't go so far as to say there's a specific date or game in mind. As for who will sit when Wideman returns, the most likely candidate may be John Erskine. He's overachieved this year but with the rest of the defense healthy he may be the odd man out.

I think it's important for the Caps to get a quick goal on Roloson early in the series, don't you? Roloson seems to get in their heads when he's, forgive me, on a "roll". If he shuts them out in game 1 I have a fear that will follow them all series.

As the cliche goes, the Capitals will need to have a short memory whether it's in regard to a goal or a loss throughout the playoffs. I don't think one loss could follow them as a series continues but Roloson definitely has the ability to find that 'zone', if you will, where he sees all the shots and seems to become invincible. 

Roloson shut the Capitals out twice this year after he joined Tampa Bay and Boudreau has talked about the veteran goaltender just shutting the door against opponents. Washington will need to do everything it can to limit how quickly he can get comfortable, whether by causing traffic, contact, getting in Roloson's head or just not allowing themselves to get discouraged when he's playing well. 

Hi Katie - How do you see the forwards for the Caps matching up against the Lightning d-men? Is the defense of the Lightning as smothering as that of the Rangers? Do you see this being a tightly contested, hard checking series that will be won or lost by the grinders or do you think this series will be a little more wide open and offensive? And do you think Backstrom gets back on track any time soon? It would be nice if the Caps could get some consistent production from their top two lines.

Lots of questions in this one so I'll try to touch on them all. First, I think the Capitals forwards are looking at a different challenge with the Tampa Bay defense than the one they saw against the Rangers. New York is perhaps more smothering but the Lightning aren't going to let the Capitals carry the puck into the offensive zone much, either, that's what their 1-3-1 system is designed to prevent. Washington can try to beat that scheme either with speed or by slowing things down and forcing Tampa Bay to make the first move, the first mistake, and draw them out of the set up. I think the biggest challenge of the Capitals' forwards is to be dilligent in their awareness of that scheme and trying to break it, not simply run into it and turn the puck over the way Tampa Bay wants them to.

As previously mentioned, I do think this will be a tightly-contested series and a close matchup. It could have shades of both a wide-open game and a gritty, playoff style though given the star power on both sides and how both teams like to focus on defensive play.

And for the final question, count me among the many curious to see if Backstrom's lack of production in the playoffs was a byproduct of the Rangers' focus on that line or something greater. We'll likely know soon enough.

Barry Melrose made a comment that teams aren't usually tired this round despite a 7 game series or a 4 game series. Teams usually show fatigue in later rounds, like the Habs did last year. Still many Caps fans think Tampa will appear tired and the Caps will cruise. I don't think that will happen, do you? This is going to be tough for both teams - neither team faced an offense like these two teams have in round 1.

Where fatigue could play a role in this particular series is the schedule. The first four games will take place in six days, with Games 3 and 4 back-to-back and that may be one of the bigger challenges for the Lightning. I don't doubt Tampa Bay is on an emotional roll after winning three straight to close out their series against the Penguins, but it will be interesting to see if the quick switch to the second round catches up with them by the time the series shifts to the St. Pete Times Forum. 

Aside from the compact schedule, I don't really think the Lightning will show significant signs of fatigue. And I agree with your last comment, neither team saw an opponent with a dangerous offense in the first round and how the defenses and goaltenders react to the change will be important on both sides.

Chimera and Fehr click so well and have all season. When Knuble returns will the Caps keep Fehr in the lineup and scratch Sturm? Sturm has basically disappeared, who would you insert into the lineup in place of Sturm?

With Knuble not yet practicing with the team it's hard to tell who might be the healthy scratch when the veteran right wing is able to return. The scenario you suggest is defnitely possible, though. I can undertsand the 'disappeared' sentiment with regard to Sturm because he's not a forward who will grab someone's attention the way the Capitals other stars do. But the quality Boudreau often cites when talking about Sturm is that he's responsible out on the ice and doesn't make many mistakes, that can be a valuable trait in the playoffs.

Thanks for all the great questions, everyone. Be sure to check back for our next live chat next week as the Capitals' series against Tampa Bay continues. 

In This Chat
Katie Carrera
Katie Carrera covers the Capitals for The Washington Post.
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