LIGHTNING STRIKES!

Posted: May 5, 2011 in NHL

Last night the Tampa Bay Lightning did more than what most people thought they would do, they made it to the Eastern Conference championship series and in the process swept the East’s #1 seed Washington Capitals. In a series that was dominated by the Lightning from game 1, they dominated tight games led by stout defense, league leading goaltending and a re-emergence by their stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St.Louis. The two Quebec born Canadians are now first and second in the playoffs in total points (Lecavalier 12, St.Louis 13) and are showing youthfulness and a jump in their step that we haven’t seen in years. St.Louis is playing at the highest level of his career perhaps and Lecavalier looks better than I have seen him in years. Both forwards are extremely aggressive on the offensive end and don’t let up. But we all know these two can play, how about the unheralded efforts of Sean Bergenheim (leads playoffs with 7 goals) and Steven Downie (leads playoffs in assists) according to ESPN.com. Downie, who struggled early in his career with Philadelphia, finally showed he had potential last year when he amassed 46 points in Tampa Bay while playing in 79 games. Given his struggles early in the league he learned quickly that you can’t do whatever you want and earning your stripes is law not a choice. Now he finally seems to be accepting his place in line and contributing every way he can. Last point on the series, I have to give enormous credit to 30 year old goaltender Dwayne Roloson who seems to be coming into his prime nicely. Wait what? He’s actually 41?! Yes, Dwayne Roloson (and not a robot in disguise) is leading the playoffs in wins (obviously will be tied eventually, but still leading), GAA and save percentage. If you asked anyone who would be the goalie of the playoffs no one was saying Dwayne was going to take over the way that he has. With veteran tricks and a cool demeanor, the Tampa Bay net minder has supported his team’s offensive resurgence with outstanding displays between the pipes and shows no signs of slowing down.

Now questions begin for Washington, again, they must seriously look at their core make up and see where the problems lie. This year it was obvious that teams were figuring out how to stop their dynamic superstar Alexander Ovechkin. Although he managed to get 10 points in his 9 games played in these playoffs, 4 of those coming on the power play, something was not right with him this year. It appears after watching these games that something is missing from the OV of old when he was scoring at will and started off his career by scoring 50+ goals four out of his first five seasons. But this season series loss was not all his fault as the rest of the high powered Washington offense seemed to disappear when it mattered most. The Capitals managed to score only on 5 of their 34 power play opportunities, which just won’t do. Fellow superstars Niklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin combined for only 8 points, not even matching that of their captain. If the Capitals are going to go anywhere they need consistent and timely production from their three dynamic superstars. Defense was also an issue, too many goals were allowed after momentum seemed to come their way. It seemed to me countless times when the Capitals battled back from deficits the lightning were able to waltz right in, tie or take the lead, and bring all the momentum back to their side. Either way George McPhee and Ted Leonsis need to get together and figure out how to take advantage of the talent they have before it disappears, if it hasn’t already.

Whatever the Capitals decide to do they have to do something but for now congratulations to the Tampa Bay Lightning on an amazing playoff run. They haven’t lost since being down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and show no signs of slowing down. They’ll have plenty of days off now to recoup and prepare for whoever their next opponent will be. Probability says it’s nearly impossible for lightning to strike once, now they’ve done it twice these playoffs. Whatever the odds are for lightning striking three times in a month I’ll take it, would you bet against this storm?

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