Thursday, April 28, 2011, 10:07 p.m.
By Ben Raby
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When the Capitals met the Rangers in their opening round series, New Yorks ability to block shots and clog shooting lanes had the potential to make life miserable for the Caps once they gained the offensive zone.
When the Caps begin their second-round series against the Lightning Friday night, simply gaining the Tampa blue line could be a challenge in itself.
You cant skate the puck into their zone, five-on-five or on the power play, said Karl Alzner. They stop you at the line all the time so dumping the puck in and not turning it over at the blue line is going to be very important.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher arrived in Tampa Bay last fall and implemented the same 1-3-1 system that he had introduced years earlier in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Among the objectives of the system- pressure the opposing teams puck carrier, force neutral zone turnovers and create odd-man rushes the other way.
You like to carry the puck and have possession of the puck during the game as much as you can, Alzner said, but theyre not a team that really allows you to do that.
One of the lasting images of the Caps first-round series was Alex Ovechkins game-winning goal in Game 5 in which he picked up speed in the neutral zone, accepted a cross-ice pass from Scott Hannan and broke in on Henrik Lundqvist.
It was a highlight reel play, the likes of which we may not see against the Lightning. Instead, get used to watching a whole lot of dumping and chasing.
I think the main thing about the way they play is that they capitalize on your mistakes, Matt Bradley said. They try to force you into making mistakes whether its in the neutral zone or in your zone or wherever and they have the guys that can really make you pay if you make mistakes.
Two words heard repeatedly during the Capitals media availability Thursday morning were mistakes the Caps know they cant make them against the Lightning- and patience- the Caps know they will need it throughout the series.
Patience is important, Bruce Boudreau said, but whatever we do the biggest thing is that we dont turn the puck over. I dont know if patience is part of that but theyre definitelypretty good when you turn the puck over. Theyre great on the rushes, odd man rushes they can create goals all three lines. They can all create goals.
While the Lightning can lull you to sleep with their play away from the puck, they also have a potent offense with multiple weapons.
Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos combined for more points this season than any two teammates not named Sedin and they were a big reason the Lightning finished with the top power play in the Eastern Conference. When healthy, St. Louis and Stamkos are often joined by agitator-extraordinaire Steve Downie on Tampas No. 1 line- a trio first put together two years ago by then-coach Rick Tocchet.
They have a bit of everything, Mike Green said of Tampas No. 1 unit for much of the season. Downie is a guy thatll get in there and be the gritty guy. And also hes pretty dangerous around the net. Then you let Stamkos shoot the puck and nine times out of ten its going to go in the net.
As for St. Louis, who on Thursday was named one of three finalists for league MVP?
Hes one of those guys that are very shifty, Alzner said. He goes all over the place. Its not like he drives wide every single time, or he stops up every single time- he kind of changes things up all the time. Sometimes hell go through you, sometimes around and so hes a tough player to play against.
That whole line is going to be criss-crossing all over the place so its going to be up to us to stay patient (theres that word again) and let them come to us and when they get close try to take them off the puck.
Ben Raby is a producer and reporter on the Washington Capitals Radio Network. He can be heard on The Morning Skate airing Sundays at 9 a.m. on 106.7 The Fan.