On The Road With Dave Mishkin
Tampa Bay Lightning
@ Washington Capitals
Greetings from Washington, D.C., where the Lightning face off against the Capitals tonight at the Verizon Center. The Caps lead the eight-game series, five games to two.
Last night, the Capitals were Lightning fans as the Bolts played the Carolina Hurricanes. Tonight, of course, the Hurricanes will be cheering for the Lightning. By virtue of their 6-2 win over the Lightning last evening, the Hurricanes now lead the Caps by two points in the Southeast Division. The Hurricanes have one game remaining – Friday at home against Florida. The Caps play the Lightning tonight and the Panthers at home on Saturday. The Hurricanes hold the tiebreaker, so a regulation loss for the Caps tonight clinches the division title for Carolina.
Of course, the Caps potentially can make the playoffs without winning the Southeast Division. With 90 points, they are well-positioned to catch Boston (92 points), Ottawa (92 points) or Philadelphia (91 points) and make it into the top eight in the Eastern Conference. Like Washington, those clubs have two games remaining and the Caps hold the tiebreaker against all three. But a loss tonight would severely damage Washington’s playoff hopes.
So as was the case last night in Raleigh, the Lightning will face a hungry, desperate team. The Lightning must find a way to match Washington’s intensity and they’ll need to do it in front of a galvanized Verizon Center crowd. Playoff fever has hit D.C. and by all accounts, the sold-out Verizon Center was deafeningly loud on Tuesday night when the Caps beat Carolina.
Beyond the challenge of matching Washington’s intensity level, the Lightning must contain MVP-candidate Alex Ovechkin. The Lightning did well to frustrate Ovechkin last Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum and held the Caps’ best player without a point. But it can’t just be about Ovechkin. This Capitals team is deep and has other dangerous players on its roster. Alexander Semin always seems to score big goals against the Lightning (he bagged the game-winner two meetings ago and a late third period tying goal last Thursday). Nicklas Backstrom is a terrific playmaker. Mike Green has become one of the top offensive defensemen in the league. Then there are guys like Brooks Laich, who has 21 goals this year, and Tomas Fleischmann, who netted the overtime winner versus the Bolts last week. In other words, the Lightning must play a solid, overall defensive game, not just worry about Ovechkin.