Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Game 3, Win 3, Still Nervous

Six straight wins. Three to nothing lead in the series. It’s not a bad time to be a Lightning fan right now. That being said it’s not over. As a matter of fact it is far from over. There were days when a 3-0 lead in a series was a death knell for the team that was behind, but as the Flyers proved last year it’s not over until a team gets its fourth win.

Before the game I was telling the folks at work that I’d be happy with a split after this weeks back-to-back games. Now I want it over. I want the sweep. I want them to cut the heads off - no zombie Ovechkin comebacks this year!

How did the Lightning find themselves up 3-0 in a second round match-up that no one had them winning? Simply put they are outworking the Caps. Washington might be getting the sexy stats - more shots, more time with the puck, more power plays, etc., but it’s the Lightning that are outworking the higher seeded team.

The boys in the black and blue are winning the battles along the boards, blocking the shots and controlling the front of the net. It’s the last point that has made the biggest difference. If you look at how they are scoring goals, it’s by getting position in front of Neuvirth and banging home rebounds or deflecting passes in.

On the flip side they have set up a wall in front of Dwayne Roloson and aren’t allowing too many shots through. The few shots that are making it through are getting knocked down by the ageless net minder and swept aside by his defensemen. The 1-3-1 gets all the press but it’s what they’re doing in the defensive zone that is making the difference. While the Caps are getting shots, they aren’t getting quality chances.

Washington fans are bemoaning the fact that the Lightning are “getting all the bounces,” but what they are failing to realize is that Tampa Bay are creating those lucky bounces. Throwing the puck at the net is one thing, but good things happen when you throw the puck in front of the net and your teammate has position. That’s what the Lightning are doing.

Washington ended up with the number one seed because they were able to bounce back from adversity during the season. This team was left for dead in December and yet managed to bounce all the way back in the second half of the season. They have the guns to come storming back, but do they have the character? Recent playoff performance say no, but this is supposed to be a different team. So we’ll see.

They have to find a way to shut down the Dominic Moore/ Steve Downie / Sean Bergenheim line. The offensive success of that line allows Coach Boucher to stack the Big Three on one line. If the Caps send their top defensive unit against Lecavalier, St Louis and Stamkos then Boucher sends out Moore line and they pick apart Washington.

Tampa Bay has also exploited the lack of speed on Washington blue line. As offensively talented as they might be, the “National Defense” isn’t exactly the most fleet of foot. Mike Green is great at carrying the puck up the ice, but get him skating backwards and he’s a liability. Alzner and Erskine are physical forces but have been turned into statues by Bergenheim, Stamkos and St Louis. Can Dennis Wideman make a difference? We might see in Game 4 if he’s healthy.

Resiliency has been a major characteristic of this season’s Lightning squad. They bounced back from a late game tying goal in Game 2 to win in overtime. Tuesday night they bounced back from a one goal third period deficit to take Game 3. They could have folded at any point and been down two games to one. After all, they don’t have playoff experience and shouldn’t be able to handle the pressure.

While Boucher has been able to do a great job in getting his team ready for the last six games, his greatest work may be ahead of him. Will the players back off a little now that they have a three game cushion? If they do they are in trouble.

Three stars for Tuesday night:

Steven Stamkos - if you need to show a non-hockey friend what a sniper looks like on the ice show him Stamkos’ game tying goal. Across the ice, with a screen to the top corner of the goalie’s stick side. Unreal.

Vincent Lecavalier - Vinny is now in Beast Mode. Look out folks.

Victor Hedman - SWEDE! SWEDE! SWEDE! Most improved player in the playoffs for this team. He’s got his skates under him and is starting to throw his weight around and skating more with the puck. Yet another possible weapon at Boucher’s disposal.


Captain Canuck said...

that 4th goal by Tampa was.... um... about as good as a few of the Bruins goals. No way that should have stood.

that said, full marks for the 3-0 lead. Who knew a tampa Washington series would be a battle of the defenses...

Justin G. said...

Hey now, that goal was reviewed and stood up to the omnisecent eye that is the Toronto war room.

If John Carlson actually uses that thing in his hands to stop the puck instead of trying to use his skate it's a non factor.

For the Lightning to have had a shot in this series it had to be defensive - despite Stamkos, St Louis and Lecavalier they can't match up Washington in a run and gun series.

Anonymous said...

The Caps cannot stop the 12 minutes of ice time that Steve Downie is graced with.......

Justin G. said...

That entire line has been dangerous. Someone wittier than I needs to come up with a nickname for them.... a la last year's St. Downkos (St Louis, Downie and Stamkos) or this year's DNA Line (Dana, Nata and Adam)....