Kukla's Korner

Up 3-0, Lightning Have So Much That Capitals Lack

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.

JJ on Twitter

Filed in: Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink


hockeychic's avatar

I am so surprised by this series and how it is turning out.  You are right, the Bolts are getting contributions from everyone and the Capitals are not.  Roloson seems determined and the Lightning just have a great energy around them.

The Caps again (like last year) are unable to adjust to adversity and seem to have no Plan B.

Wow…just wow.

Posted by hockeychic from Denver, CO on 05/04/11 at 02:16 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

Here comes another Wing-fan-based opinion. But it starts at the top.

One: Tampa has a better owner.

Leonsis is great for the promotion of the game and has obviously spared no expense in putting talent on the ice and doing everything he can to win. I like his “transparency” even if most of his blog posts are whiny and annoying. It’s still very cool for fans of the game to have that kind of “access” to the owner of one of the most heavily promoted teams in the game today.

But I think Vinik’s approach has been more effective, and if you look across the NHL and across all of North American pro sports, a Vinik-style approach is generally more effective. He has chosen a leader for the hockey operations of his team, and given full trust to that leader. In turn, Yzerman isn’t worrying about someone looking over his shoulder and second-guessing each decision he makes. That makes it easier to hire a young up-and-comer like Guy Boucher, makes it easier for Yzerman to pass that trust and faith on to a player looking to rebound like Vinny Lecavalier, etc.

I can’t imagine what it feels like being a player on the Caps, knowing that your owner is blogging about you every day. Even though Leonsis has never disparaged any player publicly, he has still continually spoken his mind about his team’s play, positive and negative, on his blog. It’s got to be weird, as a player, to know that if you don’t meet expectations, no only will you have to answer to your coach, GM, owner (behind the scenes), and the press, but you’ll also have to answer to your owner’s public comments about your play.

How many championships does Dan Snyder have? Mark Cuban? James Dolan with the Knicks? Jerry Jones is the exception to the rule, and you could argue (convincingly) that he won his titles because at the time he had excellent head coaches that were able to keep him in check and provide the buffer the players needed between his craziness and their day-to-day efforts. The Yankees don’t count… when you can spend $100 million more than everyone else because your TV network prints money for your payroll, ownership can be as crazy and mistake-prone as they want to be… the money can bury the mistakes.

Two: Tampa has a better GM. Yes, in one season, Yzerman has already proven he is a better GM than McPhee and probably one of the five best in the game. He did it right with Team Canada, and he did it right with Tampa.

He made a plan to build from the draft and develop players, and when the team showed more promise than he expected, he adjusted and was willing to make the trades for Brewer and Roloson to fill the two weakest spots on the club. But most importantly, unlike so many GMs, he found a way to fill his team’s immediate needs without giving away first round picks. And while it hurts to lose two promising D prospects in those trades, if they retain Brewer, who has plenty of good years left, that sets the club up with a top four D that would’ve been tough for Beukeboom or Wishart to crack anyways.

Three: Vinny Lecavalier is back. Not much more to say. The last 8 - 12 weeks he has been the player he can and should be. The playoffs in particular seem to have re-energized him and helped him find his game. He’s always in front of the net, he’s coming back hard on the back-check. he can still slap it from the point on the PP or wrist it hard and accurately from his on- or off-wing. He’s finally seemed to hit his stride after a couple slumping seasons and then injury problems to start this year. He might never be a 90+ point player any more, but he looks like, if he has his health, he’ll be a PPG player that plays in all situations for a handful of seasons yet.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 05/04/11 at 11:42 AM ET

hockeychic's avatar

Vinny has just been incredible…really showing his size and being a presence.  It is nice to see him find his game again.

Posted by hockeychic from Denver, CO on 05/04/11 at 12:43 PM ET


Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 05/04/11 at 09:42 AM ET

I read the first two sentences of your post: Bang on, filters down, case closed.

Posted by NathanBC on 05/04/11 at 01:20 PM ET


Boudreau’s excuse-making in last night’s press-conference was embarrassing. First, he throws Eric Fehr and Neuvirth under the bus by name, then he starts bitching about the refs as if they had more to do with the outcome than the fact that Washington has been outworked for 45 minutes of each 60 minute contest. You don’t hear Trotz, Babcock, Boucher or Bylsma saying things like “It wasn’t a defensive breakdown, Eric Fehr should’t have screwed up on the clear.”

Posted by steviesteve on 05/04/11 at 01:51 PM ET


Tampa won a Cup a few years ago and some of those guys are still there.  They were a much better team than their record the last few seasons indicated.  The previous ownership did all they could tp destroy the team.  Barry Melrose?!  This is no fluke, it’s a close series and Washington has too many no shows.

Posted by 13 user names on 05/04/11 at 08:50 PM ET

Add a Comment

Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.

Add your own avatar by joining Kukla's Korner, or logging in and uploading one in your member control panel.

Captchas bug you? Join KK or log in and you won't have to bother.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.