If you thought the Washington Capitals fan base was shocked by their first round exit last season in the playoffs, you should see them now.
No one in the hockey world much the less the nation’s capital of Washington DC thought the Tampa Bay Lightning were even going to defeat the Capitals in the Eastern Conference semi-finals matchup, much less have a chance to sweep them tonight.
That is exactly what can happen this evening as the Lightning take the ice for Game 4 at the Saint Pete Times Forum in Tampa. Down 3-0 in the series, the Capitals need a prayer and judging by the way Tampa has them locked down in the series, even a miracle may not be enough.
Yes, many are shocked by the Bolts opportunity to sweep the Caps but it is how the Lightning got to this point that is even more shocking.
Trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, the Bolts stormed back to win the series in seven games and with their 4-3 victory in Game 3 against Washington, have now won seven playoff games in a row.
Led by the oldest goaltender to ever lace up a pair of skates in the Stanley Cup playoffs, 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson, the Bolts are just one win away from making their second trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
Roloson has been nothing short of spectacular and if he were playing in Vancouver, Boston, or even Philadelphia, he would be the toast of the town and the league. In 10 post-season games this year, Roloson has faced an amazing 353 shots as Tampa has been outshot in all 10 of their post season contests thus far.
Roloson has amassed a .943 save percentage and an astounding 1.92 goals against, which is by far the best in the playoffs and in fact, no other goalie is even close to being under allowing less than two goals per game.
The Lightning are playing a brand of their 1-3-1 neutral zone trap that has stymied and confused both the Penguins and now the Capitals. Their patience is almost annoying if you are a fan of the Pens or Caps.
The Lightning’s penalty kill has been historic in the first two rounds. Tampa Bay has been shorthanded 51 times in the postseason and has allowed exactly, two goals. The second goal, which came in Game 3 against Washington, required the Caps to have a two-man advantage before they could score.
Here is the most amazing aspect of the stat. The Lightning are perfect on the road in the playoffs killing penalties. 36-for-36 away from the sunshine state.
Special teams are one of the keys to a successful post-season run. While you now know about the penalty kill, the power play has been awesome in its own right. With an extra man all Tampa has dis in the first round was shred the No.1 ranked regular season PK unit.
The Penguins could not stop the Lightning with the extra man and the Caps have not done much better. Tampa cashes in early and often with the extra man.
The Bolts are also the top ranked PP unit left in the playoffs with 10 goals (25 %) in 40 opportunities.
I have heard fans say, Tampa should be this good. They are stacked with goal scorers, superstars and experienced veterans that have been here before. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were No.1 and No. 2 for the most of the season in the points scoring race, so why should this be a surprise to anyone.
The production of Tampa’s top line is not a surprise but prior to Game 3, Tampa’s leading point getter was a guy that averages just 11 minutes of ice time per game. Steve Downie has 10 (2 G, 2 A) in the post season.
While he is now third in scoring on the team after Game 3, his fellow second, third and fourth line teammates have been very productive as well.
Teddy Purcell has nine points (1G, 8A) as Sean Bergenheim and Dominic Moore have combined for 12 points in 10 playoff games.
The Lightning are deep right now and their superstars are not disappointing the fans in the playoffs. After starting very slowly in his first post season, Steven Stamkos now has four goals. Team captain Vinny Lecavalier is also on fire as he now leads Tampa in scoring with five goals and six assists.
The Lightning seem to score exactly when they need to and they make it loook easy. Following last night’s game the Caps Mike Knuble paid a compliment not usually given in the hockey world while a series is still being played.
Knuble told the media, “They are uncanny when they want to get a goal. It’s like they just snap their fingers or hit a button. They just dial it up. You can see it. It’s like they flip a switch. When they are down, it’s just like they think ‘we know we are going to score.’ I don’t know what it is, it leaves you flabbergasted.”
The Lightning have certainly bought into coach Guy Boucher’s philosophy of sacrificing for the better of your team and the fans. Coming into tonight’s game, the Lightning boast the league’s top four shot blockers in the postseason.
Bolts defenseman Eric Brewer leads all players in the 2011 playoffs with 36, while Mattias Ohlund is second with 33 and both Brett Clark and Victor Hedman come in third and fourth, respectively, with 28 apiece.
Tampa’s success has been a well-rounded effort and they have addressed and fixed the deficiencies that cost them a chance at the Southeast division title. The Bolts are no longer pushovers in the third period.
The Lightning were one of the worst third-period teams in all of hockey this season. They were a minus-24 scoring just 64 goals (27th in league) while allowing 88 (fifth worst).
In the post season, Tampa is a plus four in the final period. Ironically, one of the best third period teams during the regular season, the Capitals are a minus-1 in the final stanza.
In fact, the Bolts have scored the most goals of any team (12) in the final 20 minutes during the playoffs.
The Caps and Bolts are most definitely playing a series that feels weird. It is like the movie “Freaky Friday. Tampa is playing a lot like Washington did in their final month of the season when the Capitals stormed past both Tampa and Philadelphia to win the division and Eastern Conference.
Washington’s play in their final 25 games was anti Murphy’s Law. Now, the Caps look like the Bolts in their last 25 games where Tampa seemed to have Murphy’s Law as their team slogan.
There is no reason to think that the Bolts will not finish the job tonight in Tampa. Even though they have been outplayed for long stretches and outshot for every game in these 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they are mastering the formula for post season success.
Great goaltending, good special teams, timely goal scoring and a little bit of luck can carry a team a long way into the spring months.
Yes, Bolts fans, The Lightning have been very lucky. Prior to last night’s game, they scored seven goals in two games. One was into an empty net and Scott Hannan and Mike Green, of the Capitals, scored two of them.
They have also seen two Washington goals disallowed. Brooks Laich kicked one in that was called a goal and last night a goal by the Caps was blown dead because they were in the process of being whistled for too many men on the ice.
Whatever the reason they are in this spot, they deserve to be there. Teams like Pittsburgh and eventually Washington do not get beat by just lucky or average teams in the playoffs, especially in this fashion.
The Lightning are good, how good is yet to be determined but if they continue to remain patient on defense, get the goaltending they have gotten and continue with their special teams then there is no reason to think they cannot be Stanley Cup Finals good.
Don’t worry yourselves Bolts fans, even if the Caps do win tonight, history says they have no shot in the series.
206 teams have led 3-0 in a series and 203 have gone onto to win the series. Only seven teams in the history of the game came back to force a Game 7 and again, only three of them won the final game.
I know about the Flyers from last year and the Blackhawks this year but Tampa is playing to good.
Washington has no clue in this series and not even being told where Nicklas Backstrom has been hiding can help them now.
So After tonight, the Bolts will at least be Eastern Conference finals good and while the Caps are looking for a new coach and direction for 2012, the Lightning are set and appear to be just getting started under their new regime.