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Cullen: Backstrom missing for Caps; Kesler comes up big

Scott Cullen
5/4/2011 1:58:55 AM
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The Capitals may be flaming out in the playoffs again as the Lightning take a commanding lead, while the Canucks edged the Predators in OT in a more competitive series.

WASHINGTON-TAMPA BAY
Tampa Bay has taken a commanding 3-0 series lead, but the games haven't been quite so lopsided.  The difference, thus far, has largely been about the goaltending.

Coming into the series, Dwayne Roloson and Michal Neuvirth were ranked first and second in save percentage through the first round of the playoffs.  While Roloson has continued his strong play, stopping 90 of 97 shots (.928 save percentage) Neuvirth's performance has slipped.  The Capitals rookie 'tender has stopped 67 of 77 shots on goal (.870 save percentage).

Tampa Bay's Sean Bergenheim scored another goal for Tampa Bay, giving him six points in the last seven games, matching his season-best point total over a seven-game span.

A little higher up the payscale Vincent Lecavalier continued his impressive run, scoring his fifth goal and 11th point of the postseason, tying him for second in the playoff scoring race.

While Lecavalier is playing above the level of his mediocre season, Washington's Nicklas Backstrom is going in the other direction, producing even less than he did while scoring a career-low 65 points in the regular season.  In Game Three, Backstrom led all Capitals with 24:46 time on ice and didn't even register a shot on goal.

To this point in the playoffs, Backstrom has two assists in eight games, an appalling figure for a player of his talent; almost indefensible if he isn't playing with an injury.

Speaking of Capitals injuries, defenceman Mike Green, who's been better in this playoffs than in previous years, left with a lower body injury with the Capitals holding a 3-2 lead and ended up playing just 13:24. 

What's a little unusual about Washington outshooting Tampa Bay is that the Lightning were second in the league, behind only San Jose, during he regular season with 3.1 shots per game more than they allowed. 

During the season, a lot was made about how the Capitals' new and improved defensive style made them more likely to win close games. 

Well, taking into account that Game One was a two-goal margin due to an empty net goal, the Capitals have effectively lost three straight one-goal games in this series, so they need that luck to change immediately if they're going to have any hope of making the miracle comeback.

VANCOUVER-NASHVILLE
The Canucks dominated play through the first two periods of this game, outshooting the Predators 24-12 before the Predators mounted more of an attack in the third period.  Even so, the final shot tally ended up favouring Vancouver, 47-30.

In each of the three games of this series, the winning team has recorded at least ten more shots on goal than the losing side.

What mattered most for the Canucks was not the 47 shots on goal (nice 44-save effort in the loss, Pekka Rinne!), but the three that ended up in the net, two off the stick of Ryan Kesler, ending his playoff goal-scoring drought at 22 games, not counting an empty-netter in last year's playoffs.

Predators winger Nick Spaling recorded an assist, giving him six points in last five games.  Not bad for a player that accounted for 14 points in 74 games during the regular season.

What was a little interesting, particularly early on when the Predators couldn't mount an offensive attack, was considering which players would be the most likely to get shots on goal for Nashville. 

That the Canucks hold a lead in the series while Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin continue to struggle (both were minus-2 in Game Three) is practically a gift to Vancouver.  If ever the Sedins start producing at their typical point-per-game pace, who knows how far the Canucks can go?

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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