The Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning clash for the first time this season when the two teams meet at Amalie Arena on Saturday night. After the Bolts took two out of three regular-season meetings between the two teams last season, the Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, including 4-0 in Game 7 at Tampa Bay. Action from the Bay can be seen on NBC Sports Washington or NHL Network for those outside the DMV beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Capitals continue a four-game Eastern Conference road trip in Tampa Bay on Saturday night. After falling 5-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins to open the road trip on Tuesday, the team bounced back with a 5-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. The Capitals are 21-13-4 on the road this season. They are 24-11-4 against the Eastern Conference this season.
Captain Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL with 45 goals and the Capitals with 79 points this season, though he just has two assists in the last four games. Prior to that stretch, he went on an eight-game point streak, where he recorded seven goals and 11 points. Defenseman John Carlson leads the Capitals with 52 assists this season and has points in five consecutive games, recording one goal and five points over that stretch.
Thursday’s victory marked the ninth straight game in which the Capitals scored at least three goals. They have scored 38 goals in those nine games (an average of 4.22 goals-per-game) and have recorded at least five goals in a game seven times over that stretch. This season, the Capitals’ average of 3.39 goals-per-game is tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for seventh in the NHL.
The Capitals’ 52 points against the East this season is second in the Conference, though the Lightning are the lone team ahead of them with 68. In their final 13 games of the regular season, 12 of them come against opponents from the Eastern Conference. In addition, they are 12-4-2 against the Atlantic Division, though they have not faced the Lightning yet.
Braden Holtby will start in goal for the Capitals.
The Lightning lead the NHL with 112 points this season, 18 more than the second-place San Jose Sharks. They have won three straight games, most recently a 5-4 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night, a game in which they trailed 3-0.
They finish off their homestand when the Arizona Coyotes come to town on Monday night before flying to Washington for a rematch with the Capitals on Wednesday. The Lightning’s 29 wins at home this season are the most in the league.
Forward Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 80 assists and 115 points in 71 games this season and has four goals and seven points in his last three games, including a two-goal, four-point effort against the Red Wings on Thursday night. He enters Saturday night needing one point for the 450th of his career. Center Brayden Point leads the Lightning with 38 goals this season.
They were not very active in the offseason nor the trade deadline but their rookies such as center Mathieu Joseph, who has 13 goals and 22 points in 60 games this season, and defenseman Erik Cernak, who has three goals, 13 points, and a +21 rating in 47 games, have made significant impacts for the Lightning.
The Bolts’ average of 3.82 goals-per-game, efficiency of 29% on the power-play, and penalty-killing rate of 85.8% this season all lead the NHL. Their 51% winning percentage on faceoffs is tied with the Red Wings for ninth in the league, though their average of 32 shots-against per game is the 10th-highest in the NHL this season. In addition, their 2.62 goals-against per game average is the fourth-lowest in the NHL.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will start for Tampa.
- Defenseman Nick Jensen will suit up in his 400th career NHL game against the Lightning
- Averaging 14:13 at even strength this season, forward Tom Wilson‘s 1.22 goals per 60 minutes of play are the fourth highest rate among Capitals with at least 200 minutes of even strength ice time (Ovechkin: 1.57; forward Jakub Vrana: 1.30; forward Brett Connolly: 1.24); Over the course of a full season (Wilson has missed 19 games this season), Wilson is on a 31-goal pace
- The Capitals have scored 171 goals at five on five this season, the third highest total in the NHL (Lightning: 178, Toronto Maple Leafs: 176)
- Ovechkin has earned 85 points (43 goals) in 66 career games against the Lightning, marking the third-most points he has earned against an NHL franchise (Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets: 91; Carolina Hurricanes: 89); he ranks first in NHL history in goals (42) and first in points (85) earned against Tampa Bay and ranks fourth in assists (Jaromir Jagr: 47, Daniel Alfredsson: 46, center Nicklas Backstrom: 45)
A Look Back At Game 7
Riding the momentum of a dominant Game 6 performance, the captain scored the game-winning goal for the Capitals just 62 seconds into the game after receiving a cross-ice pass from center Evgeny Kuznetsov and slapping it blocker side on Vasilevskiy. After Ovechkin struck, the Lightning played with desperation for the next 28 minutes of the game, getting many numerous opportunities, none better than defenseman Victor Hedman deking around Holtby and putting the puck in front of an empty net for forward Yanni Gourde. Gourde fanned on the shot and it remained a 1-0 lead for the Caps. Later in the frame, forward Andre Burakovsky stripped the puck from defenseman Dan Girardi in the offensive zone and buried his first goal of the playoffs, going high-glove on Vasilevskiy. Burakovsky scored his second of the game later in the frame after getting a pass off the boards from Carlson. Carlson sprung Burakovsky on a breakaway and went through the legs of Vasilevskiy before defenseman Ryan McDonagh took him down. The Lightning outshot the Capitals 12-6 in the second frame despite allowing two goals. Backstrom capped the game off with an empty netter that gave the Caps a 4-0 lead. Holtby stopped all 29 shots he faced to send the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
By Harrison Brown