Saturday, April 30, 2011

Game One, One Blogger, One Win

According to the experts, the Lightning aren't even supposed to be playing hockey at this point in the season. With the majority of mainstream media picking the Penguins to have beaten them in the first round it's almost like they are playing with house money at this point.

There are very, very few times that I've ever gambled with "house money". Anyone who has gambled with me in Vegas or the lovely Biloxi, MS knows that I tend to break even at the tables. Which is fine by me.

The Lightning, supposedly weary from a tough 7 game match up with Pittsburgh, ventured into the nation's capital on Friday night to begin their second round series with the Washington Capitals. Much like the first round they aren't given much of a chance to move on. After all, this is "The Year" for the Caps. The year they exorcise their playoff demons and win the Cup with their new committed to defense style of play.

Apparently, no one told the Lightning they were supposed to be the tired team. They jumped out to an early lead as playoff hero Sean Bergenheim jammed home a rebound three minutes into the first period.

If you continue to score I will be forced to thrash you!

Thankfully, the game aired on Vs. which allowed me to watch it a bar on a screen bigger than 15 inches. My co-worked Scott (a Blackhawk self-admitted Caps bandwagon/Ovechkin fan) joined me for some hockey, beer and fried food.

The 3/4 empty bar was showing the draft and around the horn when we got there and it took the manager about ten minutes to remember he promised to switch the the game on for us and another two minutes to actually find the game. Note to all you bar keeps out there - write down the channels for the major sports channels and keep it with the remote. Your sports bars for Christ's sake. Act like it!

With the game on the big screen and a nice soundtrack of Queen, Frank Sinatra and Mister Big provided by the juke box we settled in to watch a pretty fun playoff game.

The Caps would find their legs throughout the first and second period, even building a one goal lead after Eric Fehr found himself alone in front of Lightning netminder Dwayne Roloson and roofed the puck past the ageless goalie.

From their on out, though, the Lightning outworked the Caps. While the red-clad fans of the Southeast Division champions would say that their team was unlucky or didn't get the bounces, truth is that their boys didn't play hard enough to win.

The Lightning won the battles along the boards, blocked shots and frustrated the Capitals power play throughout the second half of the game. Three of the four goals scored (the 4th being an empty netter) were from getting in front of young goaltender Michal Neuvirth and jamming home pucks.

Tampa Bay also showed that they are more willing to press the attack then they did against Pittsburgh. A wise move as sitting back and allowing Washington to shoot at will is not a great plan. The Caps do have finishers and can score goals.

The Lightning played their game plan to perfection Friday night despite losing two players for significant time. Simon Gagne left in the first after a hard, but legal check by Scott Hannan led to Gagne bouncing his head off the ice.

Later in the game stalwart defenseman Pavel Kubina had his head driven into the glass behind the net by forward Jason Chimera which might lead to the Washington winger getting a call from the league office. The hit sidelined Kubina for the rest of the match, his status for Sunday's affair has not been updated.

This is what happens when M A B is forced to play defense.

Can the Lightning steal another game in Washington before heading back to the beaches of Tampa Bay? As long as they continue to play their game, yes. The question is will Washington adjust and tighten up their playmaking and stop turning over the puck.

Three Stars:

- Steve Downie - Good Steve Downie provided a goal and assist in the game and now has 9 points in 7 games for the Lightning. If his name wasn't Steve Downie would he be included in the early Conn Smythe talk?

- Bergenheim and Dominic Moore - These two continue to provide pressure against their opponents. A solid third line that can chip in points in the playoffs is an important key for success.

- Roloson - Steady as ever. After some juicy rebounds in the first two periods, he locked in down in the third and ended up turning away 25 shots in the victory.

Turning Points -

- Brooks Laich kicking in the puck. The disallowed goal halted Washington's momentum and allowed the Bolts to stay in the game.

- Alex Semin hitting the post. A gaping wide open net for the noted Lightning killer and he hit the iron dead on. The post preserved the one goal lead for Tampa.

Roloson uses telekinesis to direct the shot off the post.

- Steven Stamkos scores on the power play. The game winner gets the young sniper on the board early in the series and keeps the press from issuing "Seen Stamkos?" columns.

Prediction for Game Two. The Caps right their ship, score on a couple of power plays and win 4-2.

For the last time it's Boucher not Le Chiffre!

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