Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 02/05/11 at 04:19 PM ET
Give them credit.
The Washington Capitals came into Tampa last night, home of the current leaders in the very Southeast Division that they’ve owned for as long as most can remember, on a night where the Lightning were celebrating a new franchise motto, emblem and direction, no less and they put it on their hosts, stopping the Bolts’ six-game losing streak just like that and showing that they’re not ready to hand over the Southeast crown just yet.
And give him credit, as in Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau, for trying something different against Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1 attack. His club needed this one and, shut down offensively (to the tune of consecutive shutouts) in their previous two showdowns against Tampa, Boudreau got his players to buy into an intentionally passive approach after gaining the lead, daring the Lightning to attack while sitting back with the puck in the defensive zone.
The change in philosophy, even for a night, let Washington put recent history against Tampa Bay out of their minds, produced the intended result and yielded a four-point swing in their favor, as a Lightning win would have extended their lead in the division to seven points. Instead, the Capitals are now just three behind Tampa, having conceded nothing with 29 regular season games left for each team and one head-to-head remaining on the schedule between these two.
Lightning head coach Guy Boucher has talked frequently about a lack of respect for the opponent when his team has underperformed this year. He did once again last night while reminding all that Washington has been on top of this division and near the top of the league for as long as they have for a reason.
The more important reminder from last night’s loss for the Lightning is that, while they have been the story in the Southeast all year long, they are nowhere near free and clear in the race for the division title just yet.
And for the Capitals, the keepsake from this 5-2 win is simple: When they want to put it all together, they’re still as good as anyone. Teams like this one seem to need that kind of self-help message every now and then.
With only a three-point gap and a long way to go, if they can manage the kind of effort they got on Friday more consistently – without a doubt, the question mark of the year for Washington – the reigning champs might just have a response to the push from the challengers in the Southeast Division fight after all.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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