The chess match is on.
Adjustments are critical when it comes to winning a seven-game playoff series. Both teams come in with their game plans and adjust as the series goes on. The team that can better adjust to the other’s game plan and counter their moves generally wins the series.
But how do you adjust when everything goes right?
The Washington Capitals have dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning in two games and lead the Eastern Conference Final 2-0. They have been better than Tampa in just about every aspect, but the chess match between the two teams is still very much in play.
“You always try to stay ahead of the curve a little bit, move, counter move,” Barry Trotz said following Tuesday’s morning skate.
If the Lightning are going to make this a series, they will have to make some adjustments and the Caps know it. For Trotz, he now has to anticipate what sort of moves Tampa will make.
“We've asked that question, what do you think they will do?” Trotz said. “I'm not in their room, I don't have any microphones or cameras or anything like that so it's a little bit of a guess, anticipation of what they might do. But we don't know.”
Looking at how the Caps won Game 1 and Game 2, there is no obvious answer for what changes Tampa head coach Jon Cooper will make.
The Lightning skated the same lines at Tuesday’s morning skate as they had in the first two games, suggesting there will not be any lineup changes. Andre Vasilevskiy has given up 10 goals in five periods, but that is more of a reflection of the play in front of him. Goaltending has not been the issue and, even if Cooper wanted to make a change, the team’s backups are Louis Domingue and Peter Budaj, neither of whom seem likely to take over the series.
The biggest issue for Tampa has been its inability to penetrate Washington’s 1-1-3 trap and defend against the quick counter attacks the trap has generated. The Lightning have to find a way to break into the offensive zone and keep the puck there without selling out and leaving themselves vulnerable.
“We've tried to formulate what they might do,” Trotz said. “We might be totally wrong.”
It’s a delicate balancing act. The Caps have to anticipate what changes Tampa may make, but they should not adjust too much given how absolutely dominant they have been through two games.
The good news for Trotz is the Caps will be at home. If the Lightning make any changes that catch Washington by surprise, they have the advantage of making the second line change. That will allow Trotz to adjust his lines accordingly for better matchups in order to counter whatever moves the Lightning may make.
With a 2-0 series lead, the best move Trotz can make may be to make no move at all and wait to see what Cooper does.
Said Trotz, “They'll drop the puck and we'll try to figure it out as it goes along.”
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