(Sports Network) - A pair of division rivals will meet for the opener of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals tonight, when the top-seeded Washington Capitals welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning for a battle at Verizon Center.
You can watch hte game live on TSN and TSN Mobile TV at 7pm et/4pm pt.
Washington, which has won the last four Southeast Division titles, turned in one of its shortest postseason series in quite some time in the opening round, ousting the New York Rangers in five games. It marked the first time the Caps had ended a playoff series in five games or less since they defeated the Rangers in five games in the 1990 division finals.
Meanwhile, just by getting into the second round of the playoffs, Tampa Bay has ensured itself of its best playoff run since winning the franchise's one and only Stanley Cup title in 2004.
Tampa came back from a three-games-to-one deficit to defeat Pittsburgh in the first round, marking the club's first playoff series victory since beating Calgary in seven games for the Stanley Cup in '04. It was also the first time the Bolts have ever come back from down 3-1 to win a series.
The Capitals, who finished four points ahead of Tampa for the Southeast crown, posted a 4-1-1 record against the Bolts in the 2010-11 season series.
This marks just the second playoff series between the clubs. The only other time these teams have met in the postseasons was in the 2003 conference quarterfinals and the Lightning won that series in six games.
The Caps have seemed to buy into head coach Bruce Boudreau's new system and have played a tighter all-around defensive game. The improved strategy helped Washington hold onto leads down the stretch and in the opening round of the playoffs.
Washington held the Rangers to eight goals over five games, but the Caps' defensive prowess should face a stiffer test this round against the superior offensive attack of the Lightning. Boudreau's club did hold Tampa Bay to 10 goals in six meetings during the regular season.
"They've got more game-breakers for sure than the Rangers have," Boudreau told his team's web site of the Lightning.
Despite the increased attention to team defense, Washington is still very much a team that revolves around it's star player, Alex Ovechkin. The Russian sniper had a strong first series, posting three goals and three assists over the five meetings with the Rangers.
Ovechkin's countryman Alexander Semin also had three goals and an assist against the Rangers. He had entered the series with the Rangers on a 14-game playoff scoring drought, but ended that slump with a tally in Game 1.
Semin was an absolute force in the season series against Tampa, recording a pair of hat tricks and nine points (7 goals, 2 assists) in four games. Ovechkin added two goals and eight assists in six games versus the Lightning this season.
The Caps are hoping to get Mike Knuble back in this series, but the veteran forward missed the last two games against the Rangers with an injured right hand and will likely sit out Game 1. Knuble, 38, is a physical presence in front of the net and was third on Washington with 24 goals in the regular season.
Washington is not counting on having veteran defenseman Dennis Wideman for at least the early part of this series, as he is still recovering from a hematoma in his right leg. Wideman, who was acquired in a trade with Florida at the deadline, hasn't played since March 29.
Michal Neuvirth was very impressive in net against the Rangers, posting a 1.38 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage in his first-ever NHL playoff series.
The Lightning's strength lies in its top forwards, as the club boasts the likes of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier up front. However, Tampa also received solid production from lesser-known forwards in Round 1, including Sean Bergenheim, who had three goals against the Pens. Steve Downie was also tremendous with one goal and six assists and even sat out one game in the series due to a suspension.
St. Louis was Tampa's most dominant player in the opening round, as he recorded four goals and four assists in the series. The 35-year-old is one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy this year after leading Tampa Bay with 99 points (31g, 68a).
However, the Lightning are still expecting more from Stamkos, as the 21-year- old continued his late-season swoon in the opening round. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 draft finished the year with 45 goals and 91 points, but he had just two goals and five points over the last 12 games of the regular season. Stamkos had two goals and an assist in an 8-2 blowout victory over the Pens in Game 5 of the conference quarterfinals, but he had just one assist in the other six tests of his first-ever NHL playoff series.
Veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson was acquired in a trade with the New York Islanders in January and he proved his worth in Round 1. Roloson recorded a 1.77 GAA and a stellar .949 save percentage against the Pens, stopping 243 of the 256 shots sent his way in the first round.
Roloson also posted a shutout in Game 7 against Pittsburgh, and after the series comeback, he is now 6-0 all-time in elimination games.
Between his time with the Isles and Lightning this season, Roloson started five games against the Caps in 2010-11. He was 2-2-1 with a 1.38 GAA, .953 save percentage and a pair of shutouts in those games, but Roloson has never faced Washington in the playoffs.
Neuvirth was 1-0 with a 3.00 GAA in two games versus the Bolts this year. He is 2-0 with a 3.38 GAA in four career tilts against Tampa.
The Capitals, who will also host Game 2 on Sunday, had a 25-11-5 record as the host this year and won all three games on home ice in the first round.
Tampa had a 21-14-6 away mark during the regular season and went 3-1 in Pittsburgh in the opening round.