2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Semifinals Game 1 Recap
Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 1 - Tampa Bay 4, Washington 2 – Lightning lead series, 1-0
Immediately, this feels like a very different world for the Washington Capitals. They smothered the low-octane New York Rangers in round one, but the Tampa Bay Lightning, mentally unshackled by an improbable turnaround, are playing with the offensive freedom of a very dangerous team. Quickly toss out the seedings; the underdog from the Sunshine State doesn’t look overmatched at all against the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Friday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., the intangibles should have pointed in the direction of the home team. The Capitals finished off a five-game series against the Rangers this past Sunday and had all week to rest for the start of the second round. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay had to win three elimination games in a row and – as if that wasn’t daunting enough – catch a red-eye flight to the nation’s capital city after winning Game 7 in Pittsburgh against the Penguins on Wednesday night. The Lightning didn’t get to bed until 3 a.m. on Thursday, which – in these lengthening springtime days – is just two hours before the initial crack of dawn. Tampa Bay should have been gassed, while Washington should have been fresh. It’s instructive to note that the Caps gained rest, but not so much rest that they should have lost their edge. The Detroit Red Wings went almost 10 days between playoff rounds – that’s a bit much – but the Caps had four days off, which was just about right for any team trying to navigate the NHL postseason. This was the Capitals’ game to lose going in, and when Washington’s Eric Fehr scored to give the top seed a 2-1 lead at 1:51 of the second period, it appeared that conventional wisdom would be upheld in a town that loves to affirm it. Washington maintained that one-goal advantage deep into the second period, and with the Lightning failing to mount a charge, there was even more reason to feel confident about the Caps’ chances.
Then, however, the Bolts – who authored a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against the proud Pittsburgh Penguins – launched a new rally in the District of Columbia.
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Steve Downie tied the score at 16:17 of the second period on a shot that deflected off the stick of Washington defenseman Scott Hannan. That bit of good fortune did a great deal to change the entire tenor of this tilt. The margin between winning and losing, between positive and negative momentum, is so fine in the playoffs, and a Tampa Bay team that should have been dragging was instead able to gain adrenaline when Downie’s fortuitous shot hit the back of the net, aided by an unlikely redirection.
Just over three minutes after the Downie goal, with only 32 seconds left before the second intermission, Steven Stamkos – the young Tampa Bay star who finally scored a postseason goal in Game 5 of the Penguins series – carried that momentum into the next round of playoff competition. He popped a rebound into the net, beating a helpless Michal Neuvirth as the Washington goalie desperately tried to cover the left doorstop of the goal mouth. As the two teams skated to the dressing room after two periods, the visitors from Florida had turned a one-goal deficit into a one-goal advantage in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, red-eye flights and rest differentials didn’t really matter.
In the third period, the Lightning were so convincing that their goalie, 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson, had to stop just five shots to secure the win, which was tucked away when Dominic Moore scored an empty-netter with 40 seconds left in regulation. Tampa Bay rather easily parried the meager thrusts Washington managed, and the point was clear: After the Caps brushed aside the impotent Rangers, they came up against an opponent that was able to score three goals in two periods. Washington re-committed itself to defense this season, but if the Caps can’t tighten the screws in the coming days, they’re going to have a heap of trouble bottling up the Lightning.
That Lightning certainly wasn’t bottled in Game 1, that’s for sure.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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