Photos: NHL via Getty Images
“I think (Ovechkin) is taking fourteen years of frustration out on one playoff” – Jon Cooper, Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
We are now in the thick of the NHL Conference Finals. The Washington Capitals have once again shocked the world by taking a commanding 2-0 lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the finals of the Eastern Conference. After upsetting the Bolts on home ice not once, but twice, the Capitals now have a chance to finish the series at home in DC. But lets take this one game at a time. Game 3 is Tuesday night at the Capital One Arena. It is the first time Washington DC has hosted an NHL Conference Final Game in twenty years.
The Lightning’s Stolen Thunder
The Tampa Bay Lightning are surely tending to their bruised pride right now as they make way for the nation’s capitol. None more so then the Bolts’ netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Capitals have a strong mental hold on the affectionately dubbed “Vasi”. In games 1 and 2, he allowed a goal within the first minute of play. And in the second game, he earned himself a tripping penalty and during that penalty, he put the puck in the net behind him for the Capitals to earn a powerplay goal. There is no doubt Vasi’s confidence is shaken; the Vezina Trophy finalist was pulled during game 1 and in game 2, he allowed a whopping six goals. While still young in his NHL career, it is uncharacteristic of Vasilevskiy to look so unsure of himself in the crease.
As such, expect to see a tighter defense from the Bolts going into game 3. It should be heavily anticipated that top defensemen such as Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh will be all over any Capitals player when they have the puck. The Caps only outshot the Bolts by a total of 37 to 35, so Tampa’s defense will be looking to block shots by any means in order to defend their net while Vasi regains his confidence.
Meanwhile, in our defensive zone, Tampa Bay forwards will more than likely be not be as selective about the shots they take. Holtby has been absolutely on fire this series, and should expect a much larger challenge from the likes of Nikita Kucherov and Chris Kunitz, to name a few. So, with their backs against the wall for the first time since the NHL Playoffs began, the Bolts will be looking to reclaim the thunder we stole from them. And what should Washington be looking to do with all this in mind?
The Capitals Looking to Capitalize
As far as game plans go, Washington shouldn’t change theirs very much. Alex Ovechkin and his team are hungry, and have already exceeded the expectations of many people by dominating the Bolts twice on their home ice. As we return home, I expect more of that grit and determination from the team we all know and love. But a few things will be fine-tuned in order to maintain our lead, and even possibly, dare I say it? I won’t. But have your brooms on standby, ladies and gentleman. Just in case.
For starters, as previously mentioned, Washington should fully expect onslaughts of power from Tampa Bay’s top lines. Our silent assassin, Michal Kempny, was issued a fine for cross checking a player in Game Two, so expect to see defense play more defensively rather than the offensive defense we’ve seen the last two games. That’s not going to be a problem though, as our forward lines are more than capable of picking up the slack while our D-Men guard the blue line.
Expect to see that good old Tom Wilson physicality on display when we return home, in a showing more like it was in the Pittsburgh series than it has so far against Tampa. Another big piece to look forward to is the return of our Alternate Captain, Nicklas Backstrom, who has missed four playoff games with an upper body injury. The rumor- winds have begun to blow and they suggest he’ll be returning to action soon. A good question tough is, where?
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Chandler Stephenson have done a phenomenal job as the center-forward lineup in Backstrom’s absence, and a big concern for the Caps should be whether or not to disrupt the chemistry that’s gotten us this far. I wouldn’t be surprise to see Backstrom not on the top line, or even in the top six. It might be best for everybody to have him lead the bottom while he continues to heal, and while the top six continues to thrive. No disrespect intended to number 19, but as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Game Three is set to begin at 8 PM at Capital One Arena in Washington DC tomorrow night. It will air on NBCSN and via radio with John Walton on the Capitals Radio Network. The boys in Red will be looking to further ride their wave of momentum on home ice, and the Tampa Bay Lightning will be looking for a shot at redemption. This is why there’s nothing like playoff hockey. Stay tuned to NoVa Caps for the latest Washington Capitals news.
By: Chris Laroche