It has been a tough and exciting road for both teams leading into the Eastern Conference finals. For the Washington Capitals, the journey has been a historic one, finally defeating their rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins and vanquishing the “second round curse”. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, although playoff success is nothing new, the Boston Bruins gave them pause for thought. This Ultimate battle for the east will commence Friday, May 11 at the Amalie Area. While we’re waiting let’s look at the third round series preview.
Washington Capitals v Tampa Bay Lightning- Eastern Conference Finals.
All In The Scoring.
When all is said and done it is pretty simple, score more goals than the opponent does and you win games. But is it really? Statistically, the two teams are closer than expected going into this series.
The Capitals and Lightning have met twice before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Tampa Bay emerging victorious on both occasions.
Both teams have different styles to achieve the win. The Lightning tends to crash the net and look for the rebound. In comparison, the Capitals prefer to wait for that perfect shot or pass.
In the regular season matchups, the Lightning went 2-1-0 against the Capitals. They outscored Washington 9-8 during the regular season series. Although the playoffs are another level altogether. It’s important to note.
The Lightning, as the highest-scoring team all season long and has continued to dominate offensively in the playoffs. Averaging 2.4 goals per game in the playoffs and scoring 17 in five games against Boston’s defense.
The Capitals, however, have also been impressive, averaging 2.29 goals per game and although considered by some to have had a tougher series matchups than Tampa so far, they outscored the reigning Stanley Cup champions 19 to 14 in game 6.
Based on history and previous series match-ups, on scoring chances the Lightning have a slight advantage. It is not enough for Washington to go quantity over quality in this series. They need to be more aggressive to match the Lightning tempo, which will be high throughout the series. Their expected goals per 60 are 2.27, although not overly high, their expected goals against per 60 are only 1.52.
Closing Down Key Players.
The high-tempo intensifies in this series as both teams are heavily stacked with talent.
For Washington, it will be critical to close down players like Nikita Kucherov, the Russian forward has whopping 100 points in the season. He has added 12 points in the playoffs. Washington will have to close the 24-year old down quickly to make a difference in this series.
At the same time, they can’t forget about Steven Stamkos. The Lightning captain comes close behind with 86 points in the regular season and 10 in the playoffs. These two players combined will make it extremely difficult for the Capitals defensively. Particularly as their defense has looked sluggish in previous rounds.
Tampa will have to contend with their own Russian problem. Alex Ovechkin is showing no sign of slowing down. With almost another 50 goals this season, the captain has a real chance of finally getting a cup this year. Evgeny Kuznetsov is also on top form with 87 points in the regular season and 14 and counting in the playoffs.
This series will depend heavily on such players, however, it is true that the Lightning has the younger talent that can inject both speed and skill into this series. Players like Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point are not to be underestimated and both contributed to the scoreline in the first two rounds. This can also be said of players like Jakub Vrana and Lars Eller of the Capitals. Both have made a difference for the Capital during the playoffs. It more likely these players will be key to the outcome in this matchup.
Battle Of The Beasts.
In saying that, the series could be determined by two elite goaltenders. Both have been a brick wall during their playoff runs, and each has a Vezina nomination or trophy to their name.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has been outstanding for the Lightning in the regular season, achieving a career high of 44 wins and starting in 64 games. The Russian’s success continues into the playoffs, currently, with a .927 save percentage with a meager 2.20 goals against average. This impressive work is why the young 23-year-old has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy. Filling the skates of Ben Bishop is no easy task, however, Vasilevskiy has shined with this responsibility. If the young star continues on a hot streak he will be tough to beat.
From a Vezina trophy nominee to a Vezina trophy winner. Braden Holtby uncharacteristically struggled in the latter part of the regular season. However, since replacing Philipp Grubauer against the Columbus BlueJackets in the first round the 28-year-old veteran has found his stride again. Achieving a.926 SV% and an even lower 2.04 GAA, proving yet again that he is one of the best in the league. The success in beating the Penguins was greatly due to the efforts of Holtby.
Effective Special Teams.
Again both teams are hard to separate going into this conference final. Both have effective special teams, which can tip the scale in any game.
Capitals have been renowned in previous years to struggle on 5v4 play. However, they worked out these kinks and are currently second in powerplay percentage with 31%. With their first powerplay unit consisting of the likes of Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Eller, John Carlson and not forgetting Ovechkin they have accumulated 13 power play goals in 12 games. It is obvious that the chemistry between the players is at an all-time high.
The Lightning is not far behind with a 26.3 power-play percentage, and equally impressive 10 PPG in 10 games. Their first powerplay unit is equally stacked with Stamkos, Kucherov and Victor Hedman all producing offensively.
It is sure to be a tough special teams battle, the Lightning penalty kill is just as effective as the power-play.
It is a difficult call, Tampa has a slight edge over the Capitals in regard to young talent and overall consistency. However, the teams are equally matched in so many aspects of the game. Washington has overcome so much adversity in this Stanley Cup playoff race and momentum is high. Can heart outweigh Tampa’s advantage? It remains to be seen. Regardless, it will go down to the wire with these two teams.