AP Photo/Nick Wass
After defeating Pittsburgh 2-1 in Game 6 overtime, the Capitals removed some personal demons. The Capitals have overcome the second-round hurdle, and they knocked off the defending Stanley Cup Champions while doing it. Now, the Capitals must focus their attention to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
After knocking off the Devils in 5 games in round 1, followed by the Bruins in 5 games in round 2, the Lightning have seemingly returned to their early regular season form.
Leading the way for the Lightning is forward Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov has recorded 6 goals and 12 points in 10 postseason games. Kucherov finished the 2017-18 regular season with 39 goals and 100 points. His points total only finished behind Connor McDavid and Claude Giroux.
The Lightning blueline has a good mix of veterans and young stars. Victor Hedman is the glue that holds the Lightning blueline together. The Lightning made one of the biggest moves at the NHL Trade Deadline by acquiring Ryan McDonagh, and he is already paying dividends with his leadership and ability to log a ton of minutes.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy struggled at times late during the regular season, but he has rebounded in his postseason performance. Through 10 games, Vasilevskiy has won 8 of them. He has recorded a 2.20 goals against average and .927 save percentage.
The Lightning are loaded with firepower up front. In addition to Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos is a proven sniper around the league. Surrounding Stamkos and Kucherov, the Lightning are loaded with young talent, especially up front. Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Yanni Gourde are just some of the players they have that can put on a show with their speed and skill.
On special teams, the Lightning are buzzing and playing outstanding hockey. Their powerplay is 26.3% effective, which is 4th best in the postseason. Their penalty kill has not been as good for them, as it has been at 74.2% effective.
The Lightning are a dangerous group, and will not be a rollover for the Capitals. The Capitals last met the Lightning in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Capitals fell victim to a series sweep.
For the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era, the Capitals have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. This is the first appearance back to the Conference Finals since 1998, where they eventually went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Capitals are battled tested, and went through 2 physical and grinding series with Columbus and Pittsburgh.
The Capitals were walking a bit wounded in Game 6 against Pittsburgh, but they were able to squeak through the series and win a critical game. But the biggest concern facing the Capitals now is the status of Nicklas Backstrom. He did not play in Game 6.
Leading the way for the Capitals is Alex Ovechkin. He has recorded 8 goals and 15 points in 12 postseason games. Right next to him is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is also having an outstanding postseason. Kuznetsov has recorded 7 goals and 14 points in 12 postseason games.
John Carlson is the Capitals ace from the blueline. Carlson has recorded 3 goals and 11 points.
Braden Holtby has sealed the net job for the Capitals in the postseason. Holtby has been outstanding. He has recorded 8 wins, a 2.04 goals against average, and .926 save percentage.
Some good news for the Capitals is that Tom Wilson will be back to begin the Eastern Conference Finals. Wilson is coming off a 3-game suspension. Before his suspension, the Capitals rugged forward was playing outstanding hockey alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
A big reason why the Capitals have had the postseason success this year is secondary scoring. Players like Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, and Lars Eller have stepped up and contributed some big goals in the playoffs. The Capitals are going to head into the Conference Finals with a ton of momentum on their side. They should play very loose after they got through their Penguins obstacle.
On special teams, the Capitals are clicking in the postseason. The Capitals powerplay is hot as it is 31% effective. Their penalty kill has also been solid, as it has been at 79.1% effective.
KEYS TO THE SERIES
The Capitals and Lightning have dangerous powerplay units. There is a load of firepower at each team’s disposal. The Capitals must find a way to limit their penalties taken, so the Lightning powerplay cannot touch the ice very often.
This series will feature two great goaltenders. Holtby must continue his great postseason play for the Capitals.
SHUT DOWN KUCHEROV AND STAMKOS
This duo for the Lightning can score goals and light the lamp at will. The Capitals will have their work cut out for them against these two dynamic skaters. The Capitals must find a way to shut them down and close their time and space on the ice.
By: George Foussekis