Hockey

With the stress off, the Capitals are excited to satisfy skilled Lightning in convention last

TAMPA, FLA. — It’s type of humorous to speak in regards to the significance of expertise on this yr’s NHL playoffs.

In spite of everything, a first-year enlargement crew has already reached the Western Convention last having misplaced simply twice. And now that the two-time defending champions didn’t get out of the second spherical, the 4 winners of the previous 9 Stanley Cups (Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston) are all executed and gone.

So what does that imply for the Washington Capitals, who after punching a ticket to the third spherical on Monday took a full day without work to rejoice prefer it truly meant one thing?

In keeping with Matt Niskanen, it did imply one thing. That is the primary time in 20 years that the Capitals superior previous the second spherical of the playoffs — and the primary time since 1994 that they defeated the rival Penguins. That’s plenty of heartbreak for homegrown veterans akin to Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, in addition to a championship-starved metropolis that has by no means skilled a Stanley Cup parade.

“Guys had been excited,” stated Niskanen, who has not performed in convention last since his rookie season in Dallas in 2008. “And actually, we must always have been. That’s an excellent accomplishment. Like I stated, it was a hump for our crew. No person’s been in a position to beat Pittsburgh for 2 years, so it’s an excellent accomplishment however now we have to rapidly flip the web page.”

Dealing with the feelings would be the problem for the Capitals as they head into Recreation 1 of the Japanese Convention last. Much less so for the Tampa Bay.

Whereas Lightning captain Steven Stamkos spoke about how there is no such thing as a “panic or nervousness” — that is the third time in 4 years that Tampa Bay is within the convention last — Washington’s gamers are in uncharted territory. Except Brooks Orpik, nobody has gained a Stanley Cup. Few have even made it this far.

That have ought to rely for one thing. Nonetheless, nobody actually believes that Washington’s lack of expertise will matter one bit this late within the playoffs, even when the gamers had been nonetheless pinching themselves on Thursday.

“I feel that’s getting blown out of proportion a bit bit, when it comes to the media speaking about, ‘Wow they lastly made it and there’s going to be a letdown,’” Stamkos stated. “These guys are simply as excited to be right here as we’re. It’s a special crew yearly. It’s completely different gamers. The previous is the previous. I feel you get into these conditions and also you wish to win. They’ve had their time to rejoice; we’ve had our time to rejoice.

“It’s no straightforward feat attending to the convention last, however as soon as that puck drops it’s two good groups attempting to get to the Stanley Cup last. It will likely be an excellent collection.”

It ought to be an excellent collection as a result of these had been the 2 high groups of their respective divisions this season. Tampa Bay, which led the convention with 113 factors, wanted solely 10 video games to defeat the red-hot Devils and a Bruins crew that completed one level out of first place. Washington, which had 105 factors, overcame an early 0-2 collection deficit towards Columbus earlier than overwhelming the Penguins in six video games.

“We all know we’re getting an excellent opponent in Washington that’s performed very well and crushed some actually good groups to get right here,” Stamkos stated. “These guys are a really expert group. They’re very deep, like we’re. And we simply have to persevering with doing what we’ve executed, which is keep disciplined and never flip pucks over and enjoying actually good defensive hockey.”

Each groups come at you with an explosive offence, all-star goaltending and pace to burn. Within the common season, Capitals captain Ovechkin led all gamers with 49 objectives, whereas Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov was certainly one of three gamers to hit the 100-point mark.

“Simply watching, I assumed Tampa Bay grew their recreation,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz stated. “They tightened all the pieces up they usually simply come at you in waves. They’ve three traces that may rating they usually’ve obtained a grind line that’s efficient and a (defence) that may bounce in. They’ll do plenty of issues.”

In some methods, the stress is off the Capitals. Trotz spoke of a way of reduction amongst the gamers after getting previous Pittsburgh and the second spherical. The burden has been lifted. To borrow a phrase out of Vegas, the Capitals are enjoying with home cash. That may make them harmful, so long as they don’t get overwhelmed by the scenario.

“You don’t know for those who’re going to get again right here,” Trotz stated, “so that you wish to make one of the best of it.”

The Lightning, in the meantime, have their very own demons after dropping within the last in 2015 and failing to get out of the third spherical two years in the past. They’re the favourites. Then once more, they’ve expertise in that division.

“What’s completely different now’s nothing’s popping out of left subject,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper stated. “We type of know what’s anticipated now particularly after 2015. The farther you advance the media scrums get greater and there’s extra folks round you the place I feel it might have been a bit extra eye-opening just a few years in the past. Now we all know it’s coming.

“I suppose that’s known as expertise.”

We’ll see if it truly means something.

Lightning ‘play the sport onerous’

Laborious-hitting and bodily aren’t how most would describe the speedy and expert Lightning. And but, that’s rapidly turning into their id within the playoffs.

“They play the sport onerous,” Niskanen stated. “You don’t consider them as a giant crew, however they’re aggressive. They’re smaller, expert guys compete for pucks and don’t shrink back from soiled areas.”

Within the first spherical, Kucherov set a bodily tone with a violent hit on New Jersey defenceman Sami Vatanen that knocked him out of the playoffs. Since then, the crew has made a degree of ending checks and limiting its opponent’s time and area.

“Truthfully, I feel it got here up within the New Jersey collection,” Cooper stated. “The bodily put on and tear that we had been placing on them was working and it’s a type of recipes the place you don’t change it. We’re not likely checked out as a bodily crew, however we all know now we have it in us. And the one factor is it wasn’t only one man, everybody was on board. Our recreation plan is to make it onerous on groups.”

Electronic mail: mtraikos@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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