Vinny and The Bolts
It's been a long time between marquee moments for Vinny Lecavalier.
Say, seven years, or so.
Yes, there was that 52-goal season in the 2006-07 campaign. But the last time Lecavalier, now 31 years old, was really the man of the moment was during those halcyon days between June, 2004 and September, 2004, when he led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup then followed that up with an MVP performance for Team Canada at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Since then, more has been written about Lecavalier's ridiculous contract - a $7.72 million hit through the 2019-29 season - than about his special moments, at least until Sunday night.
Lecavalier's two-goal performance, including the overtime winner, gave the Lightning a 3-2 win and a stunning 2-0 stranglehold over the Washington Capitals in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference final. The first goal was a power play blast to a tiny hole that few NHLers can make, and the second came off a heads-up 100-foot pass up the ice by defenceman Randy Jones to Teddy Purcell that caught the Caps on a lazy line change.
Purcell, seeing Mike Green overcommitting to him, flipped the puck cross-ice to an unguarded Lecavalier, who had all kinds of time to put the puck high over Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth to shock the Caps after they'd tied the game late in regulation.
If there is reason to believe that the Bolts might actually be a Stanley Cup threat, part of the reason would be that Lecavalier has again joined Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis to give the Lightning three lethal scorers at the top of their lineup.
Yeah, there's coach Guy Boucher and his stultifying, anti-hockey 1-3-1 trap system that makes Jacques Lemaire looks like a guy who likes loosey-goosey hockey. And, of course, there's 41-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson who has been excellent in the nine Tampa post-season matches so far.
But the Big Three up front give the Lightning the weapons that allow them to capitalize on the frustration and lack of patience from opponents, as was the case again in Game 2.
And what about those Capitals? The team that couldn't hold a 3-1 lead against Montreal last spring and hasn't been able to win Game 7s on home ice now has to be the team that can come back after losing the first two games against Tampa at home.
Against the Rangers in the first round, the Caps didn't need a lot of offence, which fit the defence-first persona they've been test-driving for several months. But Tampa scored more goals than Washington did during the regular season and is a team playing with the confidence that it can get what it needs as long as it holds the opponent to three goals or less.
With their archrivals from Pittsburgh eliminated early, and with Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin having been sidelined for months, the road looked clear for the remodeled Caps to churn their way to the Eastern Conference title.
But now they've got to beat Tampa four straight or four out of five just to advance to the conference final. Green had a tough night - two bad penalties, the second Tampa goal off his skate, caught gambling defensively on the OT winner - and the Caps looked determined to set a record for going offside on the rush.
Tampa looks incredibly confident in its approach. Washington? They still don't look convinced they can win with defence, but its too late to change now.
So they've got to try and grind out four wins against a Lightning squad that not only seems to grind better, but has as many or more good finishers up front.