The East’s top seeded Washington Capitals bounced the New York Rangers from the playoffs in five games, while the Tampa Bay Lightning battled for seven games before eliminating the Crosby and Malkin-less Pittsburgh Penguins. Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos are two of the NHL’s superstars, but they’re not the only players who will be key for their respective teams.
The Capitals were able to get by the Rangers in five games, but the Lightning are significantly stronger than New York, who were the worst team in the playoffs based on total points during the regular season. The Caps are the series’ favorite against Tampa Bay, and rightfully so being that they were the top team in the East, but they’re going to have to play smart hockey against an intelligent Lightning hockey team in order to win this best-of-seven series.
The Capitals are going to have to stay out of the penalty box against the Bolts. Yes, Washington has a great penalty kill, but the experienced Lightning will capitalize on the power play, just like they did throughout the regular season. Michal Neuvirth, Washington’s rookie netminder, is going to have to stand on his head to contain the sharp-shooters on Tampa Bay.
Dwayne Roloson, a 41-year-old Ontario native, has been a brick wall for the Bolts throughout the playoffs. His effort guided Tampa Bay to a comeback against the Penguins, which was capped off Wednesday night with a 1-0 shutout win to end Pittsburgh’s 2011 season. Roloson has stopped 95% of the shots he’s faced this postseason, and he’s averaging less than two goals allowed per game. The 12-year veteran netminder hasn’t sniffed the postseason since the ’05-’06 season when he played with the Edmonton Oilers, and he’s doing all he can to extend the Lightning’s stay until June.
Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier escaped the first round of the NHL playoffs after Wednesday’s win for the first time since 2004, the same year them and the rest of the Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup at season’s end. The two veterans combined for 14 points in the opening round series against Pittsburgh, and in order for the Bolts to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals they’re going to have to continue to produce like they have. St. Louis tallied 99 points this season which resulted in him being named a 2011 Hart Trophy finalist.
The veterans, along with young guns like Steven Stamkos, are going to have to continue to fight every shift of every period, get to more loose pucks than Pittsburgh and show the tenacity that their head coach, Guy Boucher, has instilled in them in order to steal this series from the Caps.
Now that my beloved Chicago Blackhawks are eliminated I want to see Tampa Bay make a run.
With that being said…Bolts in 7.
History will be made.