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Some storylines to consider

By Times staff

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2003


SERIES

The Capitals won the regular-season series 3-2-0. The Lightning was 0-2-0 at the MCI Center.

INJURIES

For the Lightning: D Brad Lukowich (fractured right orbital bone).

For the Capitals: RW Jaromir Jagr (broken wrist) is expected to play, as are D Brendan Witt (ribs), D Ken Klee (foot), F Sergei Berezin all of whom practiced this week.

SECRET WEAPON

That could be Lightning D Pavel Kubina. Tampa Bay beat the Capitals 3-1 in their final meeting of the regular season and neutralized Jagr by hitting him often and early. That will be Kubina's job. If the big defenseman starts throwing his weight around, the rest of the team could respond.

THE BONDRA FACTOR

Right wing Peter Bondra always has eaten the Lightning alive with 40 goals and 13 assists in 48 games. He has three goals and an assist in this season's five games. With much defensive attention on Jagr, don't be surprised to see Bondra chip in a few big goals.

THE GOALIES

Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin found his A game in a big way during the season's last quarter, and brought back memories of the first half of last season when he was just about impregnable. In fact, goaltenders coach Jeff Reese said, to him, Khabibulin looks even better than he did then. But the 30-year-old Russian carries some extra weight this time of year. He never has won a playoff series in four tries and lost Game 7 twice, though a 1-0 overtime loss to the Blues in 1999 is nothing of which to be ashamed. Kolzig is a former Vezina Trophy winner who never quite regained the heights of the 1999-2000 season. But he is big (6 feet 3, 225 pounds) and has much more playoff experience than Khabibulin (39 games to 24). When he is on his game, he is extremely difficult to beat. He was 3-2-0 with a 2.98 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in his past five games.

SAY HELLO

To former Lightning center Michael Nylander, who played 44 games for Tampa Bay from 1998-2000 with five goals, 12 assists. ... To defenseman Josef Boumedienne, whom the Lightning acquired from the Devils in November 2001 in the Andrei Zyuzin trade and then shipped to the Senators.

SIZE MATTERS

The Lightning defense will have a heavy order of business dealing in the corners and in front of the net with the Capitals forwards. Jagr is 6-2, 233; Bondra is 6-1, 202; Steve Konowalchuk is 6-2, 204; Robert Lang is 6-2, 217; Dainius Zubrus is 6-4, 231; Mike Grier is 6-1, 227. Tampa Bay's blue line got some much-needed size with the return of Jassen Cullimore (6-5, 239) but the Lightning is going to have to play big or go home.

SPECIAL TEAMS

There is no doubt the Lightning's special teams, led by associate coach Craig Ramsay, were a huge part of the team's drive to the playoffs. Tampa Bay's No. 10 power play was its first top-10 unit since the 1995-96 playoff team was fourth. The penalty kill was 20th but was stout in the final 22 games, working at 87.1 percent. Washington's power play was ranked 14th and its penalty kill was the league's third worst.

THE COACHES

Tampa Bay's John Tortorella has gotten the most out of his players by challenging them. He rides his players hard but also has earned their respect. At 37, Washington's Bruce Cassidy is the league's second-youngest coach. It took him most of the season to forge a good working relationship with his veterans but he got them to buy into the team concept.

-- Compiled by Damian Cristodero.

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