Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images
After beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals have advanced to the Eastern Conference Final and will play the Tampa Bay Lightning, who advanced to the Conference Final after beating the Boston Bruins in five games. The matchup between the Caps and the Lightning is not the first time they have met in the playoffs, having met in the first round of 2003 and in the second round in 2011. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks at the two previous meeting between the two former Southeast Division rivals.
2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Prior to meeting in the playoffs, the Caps and Lightning spent most of the regular season battling it out for the top spot in the now-defunct Southeast Division, with Tampa Bay ultimately edging out Washington by one point, with a record of 36-25-16 and 93 standings points, while Washington went 39-29-8 for 92 standings points. Thus, Tampa Bay earned home ice advantage for the series, the franchise’s second playoff appearance since its inception in the 1992-93 season.
At the time, the best players for the Lightning were Vinny Prospal, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, and Martin St. Louis, with the captain’s “C” worn by Dave Andreychuk. Nikolai Khabibulin was the team’s starting goaltender in those days. The Capitals’ best players that year were Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Bondra, and Michael Nylander, with Steve Konowalchuk serving as the team captain. The Capitals still had veterans Calle Johansson, Ken Klee, and Brendan Witt as part of their defensive corps, and Olaf Kolzig the undisputed number one in net.
On the coaching front, Bruce Cassidy was the bench boss for the Capitals, while John Tortorella manned the bench for Tampa Bay.
The series began well enough for the Caps, as they won the first game on the road on April 10; they beat the Bolts by a score of 3-0 in a game that featured two goals by Lang in each of the first two periods and a goal by Michael Nylander. They followed that up with another road victory two days later, April 12, winning this game 6-3. In a penalty-filled affair, Jagr scored two first period goals, including a power play goal and Bondra added two goals of his own, the first being a power play goal in the first period and the other coming in the third period. Near the end of the game, several players on both teams earned misconduct penalties, including Richards, Lecavalier, and Fredrik Modin for the Lightning, and Brian Sutherby and Trent Whitfield for Washington. After losing Game 3, the two teams returned to Tampa Bay on April 18. Once again, the Caps lost the game, this time by a score of 2-1, with Nylander scoring the only goal for the Caps. With the Caps dropping the game, the Lightning now led 3-2 in a series in which they were once down 2-0. The teams returned to Washington to play Game 6 on April 20. This time, the Caps pulled out to a 1-0 lead late in the first period on a Bondra power play goal. Andreychuk scored the tying goal for Tampa Bay on a power play goal of his own. The game was still tied 1-1 at the end of regulation time. St. Louis eventually scored the game-winning goal during the third overtime period. Tampa Bay now took the series in six games, after falling behind by two games. This series was the first time the Lightning had advanced past the first round.
After this series, the Lightning faced the New Jersey Devils in Round 2 and lost to them in five games. The following season, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in a seven-game series, beating the Calgary Flames in the process.
The teams met again eight years later – in Round 2 of the 2011 playoffs. Throughout that time frame, there had been many changes for both teams. While Tampa Bay had won the Cup the year after the two teams’ last meeting, the team went into a severe decline four years later, finishing last in the Southeast Division in both 2007-08 and 2008-09. They had a new owner in Jeff Vinik starting in February 2010. They also had a new General Manager starting that season in Steve Yzerman, the former Hall of Fame player with the Detroit Red Wings.
They also had a new Head Coach, Guy Boucher. Forwards, Lecavalier and St. Louis, were still with the team, but Richards had been traded to the Dallas Stars in 2008. During their “lean” years, the Lightning had drafted Steven Stamkos, who was now the franchise player, and Victor Hedman, their top defenseman. The Caps, meanwhile, had torn down their roster from the 2003 playoffs and rebuilt. None of the players from their 2002-03 roster remained with the team. They still had the same owner, Ted Leonsis, and the same General Manager, George McPhee, but Bruce Boudreau was now their Head Coach, coaching his third consecutive full season with the team.
For the regular season, the Caps finished with a 48-23-11 record for 107 points overall, finishing first in the Southeast Division and holding the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning concluded the regular season with a 46-25-11 record for 103 points overall and a second-place finish in the Southeast Division, in addition to being the fifth seed in the playoffs. The Caps finished the 2010-11 season with a 4-1-1 record against Tampa Bay during the regular season. The season series even featured not just one but two hat tricks by former Capitals forward Alexander Semin. As a result of their regular season success, many expected the team to perform well against the Lightning. However, most of their head-to-head contests were before the Lightning had acquired goalie Dwayne Roloson.
Prior to the series, the Caps had beaten the New York Rangers in five games, with goalie Michal Neuvirth performing very well in Round 1. The Bolts, meanwhile, had just beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins in a seven-game series.
Game 1 took place on April 29, 2011. While they gave up the first goal to Sean Bergenheim, the Caps got on the board on a goal by Semin during the first period and a goal by Eric Fehr early in the second period to take a 2-1 lead. Tampa Bay scored two unanswered goals late in the second period and an empty-net goal near the end of the game to solidify a 4-2 victory.
Game 2 took place on May 1, 2011. Lecavalier opened the scoring, with a power play goal late in the first period, with Capitals forward Brooks Laich responding with the tying goal with slightly under six minutes left in the second period. St. Louis scored during the third period to put the Lightning ahead. Ovechkin scored the game-tying goal with just over a minute left in regulation to send the game into overtime. Just over six minutes into the extra frame, Lecavalier scored his second goal of the game to give Tampa Bay their second win of the series and a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
Games 3 and 4 were back-to-back games in Tampa, with Game 3 taking place on May 1 and Game 4 on May 2. Game 3 started off with another Bergenheim goal, but the Caps scored three goals during the second period to take a 3-2 lead at the end of two periods. However, the Lightning scored two goals of their own to win the game, 4-3, giving them a controlling 3-0 series lead. In Game 4, the teams traded power play goals during the first period, but Bergenheim scored yet two more goals to give the Lightning a two-goal lead. Defenseman John Erskine scored to put the Caps within one goal before the period was over. During the third period, Tampa Bay scored twice more and the Caps scored once more, but would fall short, losing the series in just four games. Bergenheim finished the series with four goals in four games.
Tampa Bay went on to Round 3, where they played an intense series with the Boston Bruins and lost in seven games. Boston went on to win the Stanley Cup that season.
Now for the third time in history, the Capitals and the Lightning meet again, this time in the third round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Capitals fans are hoping that the “third time will be a charm” and that they can beat Tampa Bay this time.
By Diane Doyle