GAME DAY: Capitals at Lightning 3/7/11

Capitals (36-20-10) at Lightning (37-21-7) at 7:00 p.m. on VERSUS

The biggest rivalry in the Southeast Division will get a national audience on Monday night, as the country will get to see who comes out as the division leader.  Due to a three-game losing streak by the Lightning and a four-game winning streak by the Caps, Washington took over the division lead by one point with an OT win over Florida Sunday night.  Tampa still has a game in hand.

This will be the sixth and final regular season meeting between the two.  Washington holds the series lead so far 3-2, winning 6-3, 6-0, and 5-2.  The trend has been when the Caps score, they win, with the two Lightning wins coming in Dwayne Roloson shutouts (1-0, 3-0).

Trade acquisitions Jason Arnott, Dennis Wideman, and Marco Sturm have given the Caps a new boost offensively, and that means a different style of play for the Bolts.  The last few games they’ve played have been tight, defense-oriented contests.  This likely won’t be the case tomorrow, as the Caps are as confident as they’ve been in a long time because of recent success.

Ideally, the Bolts would like to slow down the pace of the game.  Getting involved in a track meet with the Capitals can be dangerous, and the Lightning haven’t been producing the kind of offense that would be necessary to win that kind of game.

However, the Caps are on the second half of a back-to-back, and it’s their father’s trip.  This is a recipe for fatigue, and it’s possible that if the Lightning engage them in a fast game, they could wear the Caps down and capitalize late on a gassed team.  The problem is if you run with this strategy, the downfall is great if you misjudge.

Nicklas Backstrom has been a Bolt killer this year with 10 points in the five previous games.  No one on the Lightning has more than 3 points in those five games.  Roloson will be expected to start in net for Tamps, while it is slightly more tricky with Washington.  Normally Michal Neuvirth would get some rest since he started on Sunday, but with Semyon Varlamov out, the other option is AHLer Braden Holtby.  In a game of this magnitude, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bruce Boudreau decided to play Neuvirth back-to-back.

Every game between these two teams seems to be getting better and better.  They have become wildly entertaining contests over the years, and this season in particular has been outstanding as they’ve bee competing for the division lead most of the season.  Despite injuries to key players on both sides, this game shouldn’t disappoint.

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Tags: Dwayne Roloson Michal Neuvirth Nicklas Backstrom Tampa Bay Lightning Washington Capitals

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