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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau found it amusing to hear the high praise heaped on his squad by opposing coach Guy Boucher of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Boucher described the Caps, the Southeast Division winners and top seed in the Eastern Conference, as having no flaws.
"Well, that's so much crap," Boudreau said at the Caps' practice facility in Arlington, Va., on Friday morning. "You know he doesn't want to get in trouble for saying anything. We all know we have faults, we've got as many or more than most teams. We gutted out a lot of things this year."
So he's not buying the David and Goliath scenario Boucher suggested Thursday.
"They're a great team. They were two wins behind us," Boudreau said. "He's trying not to say anything in the paper and he's doing a good job at it. But we know these are two evenly matched teams and both teams believe that they can win and that's how all six games went in the regular season and I'm sure that's how tonight's going to be."
Still, Boucher continued on his theme this morning regardless of Boudreau's editorializing. He said it is going to be difficult for the Lightning to put the emotion of their grueling seven-game, first-round victory against Pittsburgh behind them in time to prepare for the well-rested Caps.
"It would be a lie to say it's easy to switch. It's tough," Boucher said. "You're playing a Game 7. You're so focused on playing that particular team. We were so engulfed in what we had to do against Pittsburgh and get to bed to at 3:30, 4 o'clock after the game in a new town and it's a new reality and you've got to switch back to it."
His message during Friday morning's workout at Verizon Center was not to be late for Game 1.
"It's not easy," Boucher said. "It's our job to reload and get ready for this one. There's a lot of information when you meet another team. You've got to start back at zero. When you start the first round, you've got days; now, we've got hours."
After looking like he was going to run away with the Rocket Richard Trophy for goal scoring, an honor he shared last season with Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos' goal production dropped off in the final third of the regular season.
The Lightning forward ended up second in goal scoring with 45 goals -- nothing to sneer at, but not where he'd hoped he would be given his torrid first-half pace. Stamkos' scoring issues continued through the first round of the playoffs, his first postseason experience, as he was held without a goal in six of seven games against Pittsburgh.
"I loved the end of his season and I think the first round he was like all the new guys," Boucher said. "You know half our team hadn't played playoffs. And he was like everybody else; he was like a deer in the headlights for the first few games."
But Boucher said Stamkos really came into his own in the second half of the series.
"I was really impressed by him learning fast. I would say mid-series, you start to see the real Stamkos and he figured it out what to do. ... He was just driving out there, paying the price, going to the net, back-checking, blocking shots, winning faceoffs, all the little things that we want to see in a winner, not a star," Boucher said. "And there's a big difference to me. There are stars out there, but there's not that many winners, and this kid is starting to figure it out, and I was really impressed by the way he picked it up. He was one of our top guys in the later games for sure."
Don't expect to see veteran forward Mike Knuble or defenseman Dennis Wideman in the Washington lineup when this series opens tonight. Both were skating with the call-ups from the Capitals' American Hockey League affiliate Friday morning, but both are close to returning from various injuries.
"I'm betting there's a good chance he'll be back before the series is over," Boudreau said of Knuble, who missed the past two games of the first round with what is believed to be a hand injury.
"Dennis Wideman is looking good, too," Boudreau said. "We've got to get them in team practices before they're going to go."
Wideman suffered a leg injury and missed the last five games of the regular season and the entire first round.
There will be an interesting special-teams battle looming in this series as both clubs are dominant at killing penalties. The Caps and Lightning each allowed just one power-play goal in their first-round series victories over the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively.
"Sometimes you get hot at the right time, and they did a great job in the last series and they frustrated the heck out of Pittsburgh," Boudreau said. "And the more offenses get frustrated, the easier it is to kill penalties. They're a hard-working group that frustrated them. Hopefully we can have a little more success."