by Jon Jordan on 05/04/11 at 12:59 AM ET
Figuring out exactly why the Tampa Bay Lightning up three games to none on the Washington Capitals in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series is no easy task.
After all, while some pundits may have had either enough confidence in the Bolts to pick them to win this series or not enough in the Caps to see it going their way, few (if any) could have had Tampa Bay a single game away from a clean sweep over Washington.
From an analytical standpoint, one could point to a power play that has only clicked once in three games for the Capitals (and only then, on a five-on-three advantage).
Or credit for that development in the series could go Tampa’s way, their penalty killers now 49-for-51 in the postseason.
One could single out Capital players like Nicklas Backstrom, scoreless now in eight playoff games, with only a pair of assists to his credit.
Or heap praise upon Lightning contributors such as Sean Bergenheim, now with five goals for Tampa Bay in his first crack at the Stanley Cup playoffs.
One could look at a goal or two that have slipped past youngster Michael Neuvirth in the Washington crease when, perhaps, they should have been stopped, and also note that seasoned veteran Dwayne Roloson across the rink has done less of just that for Tampa Bay.
But maybe analytics aren’t the key to how this series has played out through three games.
Maybe it’s a lot simpler than that.
Maybe the Lightning just have the kind of intangibles that translate to playoff success and the Capitals, unfortunately for them, do not.
That sort of thing is evident when you consider that this is a Lightning squad consistently getting contributions from throughout the lineup. If it isn’t Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis or Steven Stamkos delivering, although each has done his fair share of exactly that, it’s Bergenheim, Steve Downie or Ryan Malone (and on and on, quite literally…)
It also rings true to the contrary for Washington – certainly when it appears, as it did tonight, that if Alex Ovechkin isn’t creating a scoring opportunity or burying a chance himself, few others have it in them to step up instead.
It makes sense when this Lightning squad battles back from a 3-1 deficit in their opening series with Pittsburgh to win in seven games –and also when the Capitals look rather unspectacular in disposing of a New York Rangers club that didn’t have much business being in the playoffs in the first place in theirs.
And the point is cemented home when you compare a Bolts bunch that overcomes a 3-2 score headed into the third period with a pair of goals 24 seconds apart and never looks back with a Caps crew that hangs their heads after blowing a lead in such fashion.
It’s strengthened further still as you listen to a losing coach make excuses and single out his players in a postgame news conference and then his victorious adversary, who shuns the idea of game-to-game momentum and insists that his squad hasn’t accomplished anything – yet.
The Capitals, at least at this time of year, just don’t respond to adversity well.
The Lightning have made that their calling card.
Tampa Bay rises to a challenge, while Washington already looks defeated.
Simply stated, the Bolts are a team of steadfast resolve and the Caps may very well be who so many have long thought they were – a talented group of individuals who still have not found it within themselves to band together and find that next level.
Having pushed their division rivals now to the brink of elimination on the heels of such an impressive round one bounce-back against Pittsburgh, the Lightning’s game has transitioned smoothly and effectively into playoff mode.
The Capitals just don’t appear to have that in them.
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