While the Western Conference semifinals were clear to us by Tuesday (Predators-Canucks; Red Wings-Sharks), the East’s second round wasn’t determined until Dwayne Roloson completed his shutout against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now that we’re aware of which four teams will square off in the East, everyone can draw sides.
The Washington Capitals were supposed to cruise their way to yet another Southeast Division title, but the Tampa Bay Lightning held the top spot for a healthy portion of the 2010-11 season. Eventually the Capitals adjusted to their new, balanced system and took their title back, though. They also asserted their dominance over the Lightning, going 4-1-1 against Tampa Bay.
The Capitals didn’t miss many beats in their first round playoff series against the New York Rangers, either. That’s not to say that it was as easy as the 4-1 series record would indicate, but it was still a shining example of their renewed commitment to defense. The Capitals’ oft-criticized stars Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Alexander Semin came up big and their rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth seemed perfectly comfortable in high-pressure moments.
Meanwhile, the Lightning were in a very different situation. They found themselves down 3-1 to the Penguins but managed to win all three elimination games. It wouldn’t be wise for Tampa Bay to fall into such a hole against the Caps, but at least they know they can fight back from the brink of premature vacation. Martin St. Louis was his typical brilliant self (eight points against Pittsburgh) and Roloson’s first round output might make him the best low-risk high-reward trade acquisition of the season. Steven Stamkos started to ramp up his game toward the end of the first round, but Tampa Bay probably hopes that he will try to one-up Ovechkin in this series.
Both teams have plenty of firepower, with the Bolts being a bit less proven (beyond a handful of vets) while the Capitals must deliver under intense pressure. Which team do you expect to win and how many games will they need to get it done? Let us know in the poll.