'Bolts double up Caps in series opener

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson makes a save as Pavel Kubina and Washington Capitals'...

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson makes a save as Pavel Kubina and Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin chase the rebound. (REUTERS/Jim Young)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:27 PM ET

WASHINGTON, D.C. - It was a sea of red both in the highest corners of the stands and on the ice down below.

For a good 30 of the first 40 minutes in Friday’s opening game of the Eastern Conference semi-final, the Washington Capitals made it look like the mismatch Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher predicted it would be.

But the next time you see the Lightning panic these Stanley Cup playoffs will be the first.

With no sense of letdown, the underdog Lightning stuck to their game plan in a raucous and increasingly hostile Verizon Center and were rewarded with an unlikely and perhaps moderately lucky 4-2 victory over the Capitals.

Forced to play the final two periods without one of their offensive leaders, Simon Gagne, who had his head violently slammed to the ice in the first period, the Lightning didn’t flinch.

Watching Dwayne Roloson let in a sloppy goal early? No big deal.

So even when trailing 2-1 late into the second period and play seemingly controlled by the Capitals, the Lightning stayed the course. A lucky bounce on Steve Downie’s tying goal erased that momentum and soon after their most dangerous goal scorer reversed it.

“We needed to weather the storm and we didn’t let ourselves get behind the eight-ball after they took the lead,” said Tampa forward Steven Stamkos, who scored the game winner on the power play with just 32 seconds left in the second period.

“As the games get more and more important, it just seems like we are finally figuring out what everyone’s role is.”

With a license to be weary taking on the top-seeded Caps less than 48 hours after their Game 7 win in Pittsburgh, the Lightning was further hindered by the loss of Gagne and defenceman Pavel Kubina, who also appeared to suffer a head injury when run into the boards by Jason Chimera late in the second.

In the early going, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau seemed to have a plan to deal with the at-times oppressive 1-3-1 checking system the Lightning employ.

By getting his defencemen more aggressive and forwardly placed, the Caps were able to force turnovers, but when the flow turned more wide open, Boudreau could sense danger.

“Although we were in control of the game, you can’t play river hockey,” Boudreau said. “It was really back to a different day.”

Though wild, end-to-end hockey plays well in the regular season, especially on the entertainment index, the Caps have learned the hard way the past few springs that it doesn’t play so well in the post-season. They changed their approach in the regular season and after breezing to a five-game win over the Rangers, entered this series seen as a Stanley Cup favourite.

That hasn’t changed necessarily, but in the Lightning they know they have a formidable test.

“When we got the lead (early in the second period), we didn’t play our game,” said Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who was held to just two of his team’s 28 shots on net. “I think we played too cute and took lots of penalties and that cost us.”

As Pittsburgh learned so painfully in the first round, when the Lightning get a lead, they can be suffocating. The Tampa penalty kill, which held the Pens to just one goal in 35 attempts, stopped each of the five Caps power plays.

“They make it frustrating, they just hang back,” said Boudreau, who also saw his team hit the post twice. “They are very good at it. That’s why when they get a lead they hold it.”

Boucher, who prior to the game would have you believe that his team had no chance, was at it again post-game saying “that team we are playing is quite a hockey machine, a more powerful team than us.”

That is playoff hyperbole of the highest order and you can bet Boudreau isn’t buying it. And for the Caps, Game 2 on Sunday night can’t come soon enough.


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