2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Semifinals Game 4 Recap
Eastern Conference Semifinal Game 4 - Tampa Bay 5, Washington 3 – Lightning win series, 4-0
That was quick. It was also historic.
The Tampa Bay Lightning wasted absolutely no time putting away the Washington Capitals in the second round of the NHL playoffs. The Bolts didn’t just win this series; heck, they didn’t just sweep away the top seed in the East. Tampa Bay did this deed in the span of just six days. With the series starting last Friday, involving no double-day breaks between games, and then stacking two games on consecutive days in Florida, it took less than a week for the fifth-seeded Lightning to register a kill shot. After a first round that took a full two weeks to play out, it took less than half that time for the Bolts in black to strike down Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, and the rest of a thunderstruck Caps team that had no time to savor its first-round series win over the New York Rangers.
The truly embarrassing aspect of this loss on Wednesday night for the Capitals at the St. Pete Times Forum was that it marked an unprecedented event in NHL history. Other top-seeded teams have lost in the first round or second rounds of the playoffs, but none of them had ever been swept. These Capitals became the first team to suffer such a dubious distinction. That’s what will stick with the team that had more points than anyone else in the Eastern Conference over 82 regular-season games.
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Hockey, like basketball, is such a playoff-oriented sport that the regular season owns a distinctly diminished level of value. NFL teams that win 12 games and lose in the second round of the playoffs still earn a considerable amount of respect, even though the disappointment of a pre-Super Bowl defeat is enormous and the criticism is venomous. Baseball teams who win 100 games and lose in the league championship series are still given the benefit of the doubt if they run into an opponent with top-shelf starting pitching. In basketball and hockey, though, there’s simply no hiding from an early playoff exit. When that playoff loss is also thoroughly decisive, the haunting nature of the experience is that much more pronounced. When you then factor in the reality that the Caps are one of the NHL’s most routinely disappointing franchises, having never won a Stanley Cup while reaching only one Cup finals series (in 1998), the gloom that will settle over this organization in the coming months is not going to lift anytime soon.
What’s remarkable about the above narrative is that it overshadows the fact that this fourth game wasn’t all that competitive. Through two periods, the Capitals remained interested in the fight, scoring a goal late in the second stanza to pull within a goal of the Lightning at 3-2. However, the Bolts broke the game open in the third period on goals by Marc-Andre Bergeron at 5:07 of the period and Martin St. Louis at 16:52 to create a 5-2 score. Yes, John Carlson scored for the Caps at the 17:54 mark, but that goal was noticeably cosmetic. The Lightning overwhelmed the listless top seed, putting the punctuation mark on a remarkably short series that will have the Bolts fresher than fresh for the East finals.
More will be written about Tampa Bay’s great story in the weeks to come. For now, the headline has to be that the Washington Capitals took a top seed and turned it into an historic black mark… in line with a franchise’s decades-long trail of postseason tears.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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