Thursday, March 19, 2009

Caps Visit Lightning

If there is a team the Capitals should be excited to see, it's the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Caps are a perfect 3-0 against the Bolts this season. In each of those three outings, the Caps have secured a nice lead for themselves in the first period, scoring three unanswered goals, each time against a different netminder. Tonight's matchup will offer the Caps an opportunity to pummel yet another goalie, as Olie Kolzig is no longer a Bolt and Mike Smith and Mike McKenna are both out with injury.

In addition to goalie injuries, TB has also struggled to keep its blue line manned as well. The Lightning have now suited up 20 different defenseman in 72 games this season.

Although the stage is set for an easy Caps victory (is there such a thing?), especially coming off a gratifying shutout against the Panthers on Tuesday, no game should be taken for granted. TB's two top offensive lines are anchored by all-stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, both of whom are among the top 25 scorers in the NHL this season. And, the Caps have certainly lost their fair share of games this season against lesser opponents -- most recently, just three nights ago, when they were pounded by the Thrashers.

The Caps are in a very comfortable position going into the final ten games of the season. They hold a decisive 13-point lead in the Southeast Division over the Carolina Hurricanes, whom they'll visit on Saturday. Winning the division guarantees a playoff berth. Additionally, they are currently in third place in the Eastern Conference. A win tonight would move them into second (since New Jersey lost last night and doesn't play tonight), and would put them well within striking distance of first-place Boston, whom they currently trail by a mere 5 points. The remaining schedule favors the Caps as well, with the majority of their upcoming contests coming against Southeast rivals.

They're not locked in yet, though, and now is not the time to rest on past accomplishments. There is enough time left for other teams, such as Carolina, to display the same grit and determination that vaulted the Caps to a division win last year. This is the time to buckle down, stay healthy, and keep the focus on winning every game. Fans are hoping for another solid effort from the Caps tonight, and everyone is looking forward to Ovechkin's 50th goal, which will very likely be scored tonight at St. Pete Times Forum.

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