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Tampa Bay completes sweep of top-seeded Washington

The Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin (8) dives for the puck in front of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Teddy Purcell (16) during Game 4 of the team’s Eastern Conference semifinal series in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday. Tampa Bay won the game 5-3 to complete a series sweep. — Photo by The Associated Press

TAMPA, Florida — Maybe somebody saw the Tampa Bay Lightning on the playoff horizon, looming like a cloud, but nobody saw this.

The difference between first and fifth in the Eastern Conference was essentially the difference between a stack of five cards — so slender it was essentially meaningless.

But to sweep the Washington Capitals out of the playoffs, as Tampa Bay did Wednesday night with a 5-3 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum — well, if somebody predicted that, you’d hope they put some money on it.

“Don’t underestimate them, is what I’d say,” said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. “Once they got (goaltender) Dwayne Roloson they became a completely different team. They’re committed. Every game hinged on a break here or a break there, but you earn your breaks.”

Tampa Bay did that. They won three one-goal games, with an empty-netter tacked on to the first of them, and then simply outclassed Washington in Game 4, building a 5-2 lead and holding on as their fans chanted “Sweep! Sweep!”

Tampa will now move on to the Eastern Conference final, and Washington will move on to another very long summer. When a team wins the East and is swept in the second round, one year after winning the Presidents’ Trophy and blowing a 3-1 lead in the first round, then at some point blame must be apportioned. In Washington they should call the hangman, and tell him to wait by his phone.

Washington’s will was exhausted. It’s harder to climb a mountain when you’re stranded at its base, peering up into the clouds.

And so when the reasons for the failure of these Capitals are explored, there will be fertile ground to till. Alex Semin’s flickering presence, Nicklas Backstrom’s baffling regression, the youth of their top defence pair and goaltenders, Alexander Ovechkin’s stubbornness — though he finished with a team-leading 10 points in nine playoff games — Jason Arnott’s old age, bad bounces, mental mistakes, Boudreau, general manager George McPhee’s roster composition.

Whatever it is, there is something missing from this team.

Meanwhile, if you wanted a reason Tampa has been so successful, the third line of Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore and Steve Downie is a fine place to start. Bergenheim scored Tampa’s second goal after Neuvirth negated an icing call early in the second, then scored again eight minutes later after he and Moore combined for an end-to-end rush off a Capitals turnover.

Martin St. Louis had Tampa’s fifth goal. Sturm, JohnEskine and John Carlson had the Washington goals.

“This was the first team were played in a while that had three lines that really came at you,” said Boudreau, whose job security, fairly or not, will come under question. “We hadn’t seen offence like that in a while.”

It was Bergenheim’s seventh goal in 11 playoff games, after tallying 14 in 80 during the regular season. Every season has its unexpected playoff hero, and Bergenheim, a 27-year-old Finn in his first NHL post-season after being quietly signed as a free agent, is certainly a candidate.

“Playoffs are faster, it’s more physical, but I like it,” said Bergenheim.

“This year, every tough game, every important game, every game where there was some pressure, (Bergenheim) was in it, and he was one of our better players,” said Tampa coach Guy Boucher.

“There are different types of people. Some people freeze under pressure, and some people fly away. And some people fight, and he fights. We’ve got a lot of fighters on this team. And I think the other team had a lot of fighters, too.”

Maybe, but there weren’t enough.

The Capitals talked about how they tried, really tried. They defended Boudreau, with Brooks Laich calling the coaching staff a “dream team.” It might all be true. But for the winners there are always plenty of heroes to go around. For the losers, there’s nothing but time, and repercussions.

 

barthur(at)nationalpost.com

Organizations: Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, NHL

Geographic location: Tampa, Washington, TAMPA, Florida

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  • afan
    May 05, 2011 - 16:51

    It is great to see Teddy playing so well. It was a good game!