“Heaven And Hell” – a Round 2 Caps playoff preview (Part 1)
The word “tidy” is seldom ever associated with the Washington Capitals and the playoffs, but in this case the shoe fits.
The Caps defeated the New York Rangers in Round 1 in a tidy five games, giving themselves a chance to get some rest heading into their Round 2 matchup with a familiar foe: Southeast Division rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tampa led the division for much of the mid-portion of the regular season before the Caps overtook them in March. The Bolts managed to come back from down 3-1 in games to the Pittsburgh Penguins before coming back to win the series in seven games.
Once again, I’ll preview this series using various matchups contrasted with a masterpiece of heavy metal. Since we’re close to the one-year anniversary of legendary singer Ronnie James Dio’s passing from cancer, I figured I’d use one of Dio’s crowing achievements, his teaming up with the equally legendary Black Sabbath for the 1980 album “Heaven And Hell.”
Along with his 1983 solo debut “Holy Diver,” “Heaven And Hell” is the album Dio is best known for. Born Ronnie Padavona, Dio was one of metal’s most iconic figures, with his elfish appearance, operatic voice and as the innovator of the famous “devil horn” hand gesture. Dio first came to attention as the frontman for former Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore’s band Rainbow, before teaming with Sabbath for two albums, striking out as a solo artist and reteaming with Sabbath under the moniker Heaven And Hell.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In 1980, Black Sabbath was thought to be on the downside of their career. The band had just fired original vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. A ridiculous amount of drug and alcohol use – mostly by Ozzy and drummer Bill Ward – had destroyed relationships within the band, and their last two albums, “Technical Ecstasy” and “Never Say Die!” met with poor reviews and sales.
Enter Dio, who rejuvenated the band’s career with “Heaven And Hell,” an album that not only holds up today, but also stands alongside Sabbath’s first five albums with Ozzy as landmarks within the genre.
The same sort of rebirth could also be applied to the Caps, who have gone from a go-go offensive outfit that couldn’t handle the tight checking playoffs, to a team that gets a lead and puts opponents into a chokehold defensively.
In order to make sure this thing doesn’t run as long as my Round 1 preview, I’ll break this sucker down into two parts, or sides if you want to use album terminology, with a link to Part 2 at the bottom.
1. “Neon Knights”
Sabbath – The album gets off to a rollicking start with this uptempo rocker that announces Dio’s presence with authority.
Caps-Bolts – There’s lots of star power here, with the Caps’ “Young Guns” – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nick Backstrom and Mike Green – on one side, and Tampa’s triumvirate of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier on the other.
Ovechkin and Green each had a tremendous series in Round 1 against the New York Rangers, while Semin finally shook his playoff doldrums from years past. Only Backstrom has yet to get going and the Caps are going to need him in this one.
Stamkos struggled to find his sea legs against Pittsburgh, but his two goals in Game 5 of that series seemed to turn the momentum. The diminutive St. Louis has been a Caps killer in his career and Lecavalier, while not the offensive threat he was earlier in his career, still brings it come playoff time.
Whoever wins the battle of the stars here is going to be the team moving on.
2. “Children of the Sea”
Sabbath – Some great acoustic guitar work from Tony Iommi highlights this doom-and-gloom-style ballad, as Dio’s vocals range from intense to melodic. This song has a tremendous groove to it.
Caps-Bolts – Every playoff series in hockey seems to have its unsung heroes who step up and help their victory. For the Caps in Round 1, that man was Jason Chimera, who scored the game-winning goals in games 2 and 4 against the Rangers. On the other side, Sean Bergenheim scored two huge goals for the Bolts in games 6 and 7 against the Pens, the latter being the game winner.
Other potential unsung heroes are Jason Arnott, Marcus Johansson and Matt Hendricks for the Caps, and Dominic Moore (a Caps-killer last year with Montreal), Steve Downie and Nate Thompson for Tampa. When the smoke clears, one of these six guys will likely end up scoring a series-turning goal.
3. “Lady Evil”
Sabbath – A song that would be right at home on one of Dio’s solo albums: uptempo with Dio singing about sorceresses…or something to that effect.
Caps-Bolts – Father Time would be more like it, but 41-year-old Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson will be the man the Caps must solve to move on. Roloson was a brick wall in Tampa’s 1-0 triumph in Game 7 against Pittsburgh, and he’s given the Caps trouble before in his stints with Tampa and the New York Islanders.
The Caps were able to get in Roloson’s head some in the regular season by crowding his crease and keep him from seeing the puck. To consistently get pucks behind Rolo, the Caps are going to have to go to the dirty areas in front of the net.
Keep in mind, Roloson is a ridiculous 6-0 in games where his team faces elimination and is 2-0 in Game 7’s.
4. “Heaven and Hell”
Sabbath – The signature song of the Black Sabbath’s Dio era, it starts with a bruising groove before gradually speeding up for the finish. According to Dio, the lyrics are about the duality of man, how everyone has their own heaven and hell inside them.
Caps-Bolts – How else to describe the Caps’ playoff history other than heaven and hell, with more hell than heaven. One of those hell moments was in 2003, when the Caps faced these Tampa Bay Lightning. Things started great, winning the first two games in Tampa before collapsing and losing the next four games.
The season is about redemption for Washington, about rising out of the hell that was last year’s playoffs and reaching the heaven of the Stanley Cup. Think of the journey to the cup as like navigating Route 9 during construction. The Caps have made it through the first flagger at the road resurfacing. Now it’s time to get past the telephone pole installation.