Displaying a determined drive and a relentless attitude, the Lightning swept past the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference with a strong willpower.
Tampa Bay knocked off Washington with a 5-3 victory on Wednesday, sweeping the Capitals in four consecutive games to advance to the Eastern Conference final for the second time in franchise history. The Lightning will await the winner of the other conference semifinal, currently led by Boston 3-0 over Philadelphia.
Sean Bergenheim scored two goals to give him seven for the playoffs, which is tied for the league lead, while linemates Dominic Moore and Steve Downie each finished with two assists. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron scored what stood as the game-winning goal with a power play marker early in the third period while Ryan Malone and Marty St. Louis also scored for Tampa Bay.
Conn Smythe candidate Dwayne Roloson, meanwhile, stopped 33 shots as Tampa Bay won its seventh consecutive game, one game short of a franchise playoff record. The series sweep is the second in Lightning playoff history, and Tampa Bay is the first team to complete a sweep of a conference top seed in the first or second round since the league went to the conference format in 1994.
Washington came into the series as a top Stanley Cup contender, which Lightning coach Guy Boucher referred to as a powerhouse team. Yet, in the classic case of will beating skill, Tampa Bay went to work with a lunch-pail attitude throughout the four-game series.
"You call it whatever you want, relentlessness, willpower, desire, whatever word you want to use, but what I think it just comes down to is not being afraid to lose,’’ Roloson said. "The guys are not afraid, they are going out, they are playing and putting everything on the line day in and day out. When you do that, it makes for a tough to play against.’’
Tampa Bay was just that in the second-round series.
After coming off a 3-1 comeback series victory against the Penguins, the Lightning had to flip the switch awful quick, starting the second round in Washington two days after the Game 7 victory in Pittsburgh. But undeterred by the rapid turnaround, Tampa Bay frustrated the Capitals for two games in Washington, including an overtime victory in Game 2. On home ice, the Lightning overcame a third-period deficit in Game 3 on Tuesday and came out with the same mentality on Wednesday, not wanting to let anything slip away.
"There is no better moment than now,’’ St. Louis said. "Obviously, if it didn’t work out (Wednesday), we had more games to play, but we didn’t want to give them any breathing room in terms of momentum if they won tonight. We wanted to leave it all out there. We wanted to give ourselves a fair chance to finish it. Sometimes there are bad bounces that you can’t control, but we wanted to make sure we could control the things we can, and I thought we did that. The guys fought hard, there were no passengers and that’s what you need to close a series.’’
And just as had been the case for most of the series, the Lightning played from ahead on Wednesday. In all four games Tampa Bay scored the first goal and only trailed for a total of 26:15, falling behind in Game 1 and then again in Game 3.
Malone scored 12:37 into the game to force Washington to chase once again. And despite a Marco Sturm power-play goal with 1:30 left in the first, Bergenheim regained the lead for good at 4:41 and increased the lead to two goals, driving to the net to pounce on a rebound from a Moore shot at 12:34. From that point, Tampa Bay never was really challenged despite Washington’s 14 shots on goal in the third period.
Bergeron’s slap shot from the center point on a third-period power play regained the two-goal lead and St. Louis scored his sixth of the postseason with 3:08 left to deliver the final knockout blow in what Boucher called a "David vs. Goliath’’ matchup.
"I guess we had a pretty good slingshot,’’ Boucher said after the game. "We hit him in the right spot.’’