Washington is making its first convention finals look since 1998 after lastly vanquishing the rival Penguins within the second spherical. Tampa, in the meantime, is a Stanley Cup semifinalist for a 3rd time in 4 years and the heavy favourite advance after going through little or no turbulence to date within the postseason.
The Lightning enter the collection with their high-powered roster absolutely intact, whereas the well being of Nicklas Backstrom might loom giant for the Capitals. Their high heart sat out Recreation 6 of the second spherical, however traveled with the group to Tampa and practiced Thursday. Andre Burakovsky additionally might return for Recreation 1. They’re each thought of “everyday.” Tom Wilson, suspended three video games for his hit to the top of the Penguins’ Zach Aston-Reese, will probably be again within the Capitals’ lineup for the opener.
Lightning (-155) vs. Capitals (+135): Schedule, picks, predictions
Recreation 1: Might 11 at Tampa Bay, Eight p.m. (NBCSN, fuboTV)
Recreation 2: Might 13 at Tampa Bay, Eight p.m. (NBCSN, fuboTV)
Recreation Three: Might 15 at Washington, Eight p.m. (NBCSN, fuboTV)
Recreation Four: Might 17 at Washington, Eight p.m. (NBCSN, fuboTV)
*Recreation 5: Might 19 at Tampa Bay, 7:15 p.m. (NBC, fuboTV)
*Recreation 6: Might 21 at Washington, Eight p.m. (NBCSN, fuboTV)
*Recreation 7: Might 23 at Tampa Bay, Eight p.m. (NBCSN, fuboTV)
(All occasions Jap; * If mandatory)
Common season conferences: TB, Four-Three OT (10/9); WSH, Three-1 (11/24); TB, Four-2 (2/20)
Story of the tape
Offense: The Capitals boast the highest offense in these playoffs (Three.58 objectives per sport) on the energy of their massive three up entrance — Ovechkin (Eight objectives, 15 factors), Kuznetsov (7 objectives, 14 factors), Backstrom (Three objectives, 13 factors) — who’re all producing some extent per sport. Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie have additionally stepped up when wanted, and Tom Wilson returns from suspension for Recreation 1. Backstrom’s well being is the massive wild card if they are going to out-gun a Lightning group whose personal superstars have but to play their finest hockey (a scary thought), but Tampa’s Three.50 objectives per sport is only a tick off the Caps’ tempo. The Lightning merely have an excessive amount of firepower.
Protection: John Carlson’s offensive contributions each at occasion energy and on the facility play have been necessary, however the Capitals’ high 4 with Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen and Michal Kempny does not maintain water in opposition to Tampa’s glut of No. 1 blueliners. Contemplate that the Lightning have the luxurious of rolling out Norris finalist Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and/or Anton Stralman on the ice always, every averaging at the least 22 minutes per sport. They’ve barely wanted Mikhail Sergachev and have even gotten two objectives from unlikely hero Dan Girardi.
Goaltending: The Capitals are Eight-2 since turning to Braden Holtby, who’s permitting simply over two objectives per sport and has a .926 save proportion — good for third within the playoffs. He is the most important distinction between an early first-round exit and the place the Capitals stand now. Likewise, counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy (Eight-2, 2.20, .927) has additionally been stellar by two rounds, displaying no indicators of fatigue that led to his second-half hunch.
Benefit: Break up
Particular groups: This can be a assembly between the highest two energy performs remaining within the postseason (Capitals, 30.9 p.c; Lightning, 26.Three p.c). They’re each deadly in their very own methods, whether or not it is Ovechkin or Carlson winding up for one-timers or Kucherov and Stamkos taking part in tic-tac-toe. The Achilles’ heel for Tampa all season has been its penalty kill. That is continued into the playoffs (74.2 p.c), one thing Washington might want to exploit.
Teaching: Barry Trotz doubtless saved his job by going again to Holtby in web after the failed Philipp Grubauer experiment. Whether or not it was a stroke of teaching genius or sheer luck is open for debate, but it surely has labored. The Lightning bench options one in every of hockey’s nice tacticians in Jon Cooper, and he can do no fallacious to date these playoffs.
Brandon Schlager (9-2): I for one am thrilled for the Capitals and Ovechkin, who deserve all of the cred they’re lastly receiving after which some for shaking the Penguins from their shoulders as soon as and for all. It is amusing and all too ironic that is the group that lastly completed it and ended the D.C. sports activities curse as these Presidents’ Trophies sit and collect mud. By way of a principally stress-free common season, Ovechkin’s been chargeable for a lot of the heavy lifting in what is going to go down as a defining efficiency in his Corridor of Fame profession. It will be an ideal story to see it finish with a Stanley Cup, however I feel the Lightning, unscathed in collection victories over the Bruins and Devils, merely will show to be a matchup nightmare for a Capitals group that took a number of lumps from Columbus and Pittsburgh. Tampa has given us no purpose to query there is a extra superior group within the Jap Convention. Why begin now?
Lightning in 6 video games
Evan Sporer (7-Four): Right here’s the issue with the groups that preserve developing in opposition to the Lightning: Tampa Bay’s protection is a lot better than the group they simply completed beating. The place the Bruins high line ran roughshod over the Maple Leafs’ porous protection in spherical one, the likes of Hedman, McDonagh and Stralman taking part in with Level’s line was the difference-maker in spherical two.
The Capitals’ ahead depth is a bit shaky (I feel that’s a good assertion when Tom Wilson is taking part in in your high line) and I don’t see them stretching out Tampa or giving them too many issues. No matter this damage is to Backstrom, if it’s something long run that’s of main, main concern to the Capitals. Anticipate Cooper to go together with Level’s line in opposition to Ovechkin’s as a lot as he can, which implies J.T. Miller, Stamkos and Kucherov would get the Capitals’ second line (presumably sans Backstrom). And the Stamkos line is simply beginning to get sizzling, which is unhealthy information irrespective of how wholesome the Capitals are.
I feel this collection goes six video games as a result of Holtby has seemed just like the goaltender who entered these playoffs with the highest-ever postseason save proportion (sure, that belonged to Braden Holtby). He may be capable of masks among the Capitals’ deficiencies in a seven-game collection, however in nearly all situations, if one group is a lot better than the opposite, even a sizzling streak from a goaltender or a ahead is an excessive amount of to beat.
And that is what this Lightning group was constructed for. They actually have three No. 1 defensemen, making Cooper’s life a lot simpler when it comes to matchup flexibility. They’ve a defensively accountable line that may additionally rating, and a scoring line that may rating in bunches. It’s superb that this was the 12 months the Capitals obtained over the second-round hump as a result of there have been so many higher variations of this group over the previous few seasons. The Lightning, however, are starting to appear to be the juggernauts many pegged them as earlier than a mid-season lull. Oh, and I picked Tampa Bay to win the East, so no purpose to deviate from that prediction after what they’ve proven to date.
Lightning in 6 video games
Jim Cerny (Eight-Three): That is the precise matchup I anticipated — and predicted — for the Jap Convention finals. Now the query is that if I consider sufficient on this being the Capitals’ 12 months after lastly getting over the hump and out of the second spherical or do I follow my unique choose that the Lightning will play within the Stanley Cup Closing?
Washington has loads of mojo on its aspect, the magic carpet trip beginning with the sumptuous play of Holtby (Eight-Three, 2.04, .926) in objective, the NHL’s top-ranked postseason offense and second-best energy play which is clicking at 31 p.c, contributions up and down its lineup — together with the NHL postseason debuts of seven rookies already this spring, and standout play from its high gamers — Ovechkin (Eight objectives, 15 factors), Kuznetsov (7 objectives, 14 factors, additional time collection winner in opposition to Pittsburgh) and Carlson (11 factors, 10 on the facility play). Oh, and did I point out that the Caps lastly beat the Penguins and superior previous the second spherical for the primary time within the Ovechkin Period?
After all, not all is ideal within the Caps world, beginning with accidents to Backstrom and Burakovsky, which might definitively change the stability of energy on this collection ought to one or each stay out, or compromised, for an prolonged interval.
Then there’s the Lightning, a group additionally averaging higher than Three.5 objectives per sport this spring just like the Caps, that includes a potent energy play (26.Three p.c) and rock-solid play between the pipes, as Vasilevskiy is Eight-2, 2.20, .927 by two rounds. What actually units the Lightning aside, to date, within the playoffs is their great depth up entrance and on the again finish — which is so full that Tampa Bay knocked the Bruins out in 5 video games with out receiving dominant play from both of its two famous person forwards. In reality, Level has been Tampa Bay’s finest ahead by the primary two rounds. And it positive doesn’t harm to have McDonagh in your SECOND protection pairing.
So, who wins? Holtby must steal this collection for Washington to ensure that the Capitals to achieve the Closing, and I don’t see that taking place. Vasilevskiy is as much as besting Holtby, Kucherov and Stamkos take the collection over, Hedman is a monster on protection and Tampa Bay’s depth is an excessive amount of for Washington to match.
Lightning in 6 video games