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4 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning to win the Eastern Conference

4 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning to win the Eastern Conference

The Capitals dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday to claim the conference crown and a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington took an early lead and never looked back.

Here is how they bucked their Game 7 history to win.

4 Reasons the Capitals beat the Lightning in Game 7

1. 62 seconds

The last time these two teams met in Tampa, the Lightning struck just 19 seconds into the game and it set the tone for the entire contest. This time, it was the Caps who struck early.

A big hit by Tom Wilson in the neutral zone created a turnover that started the rush for the Caps. Evgeny Kuznetsov fed Ovechkin for the one-timer and he fired it past Vasilevskiy just 62 seconds into the game.

2. Andre Burakovsky’s big night

An injury limited Burakovsky to just 56 games this season. He suffered another injury in Game 2 of the first round and did not return until Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. He was a healthy scratch in Game 5 and was talking about talking to a sports psychologist over the summer. He had not recorded a point this postseason heading into Wednesday game.

And somehow, he rattled off two goals to lead the Capitals.

The start of the second period was all Tampa Bay. The Lightning were dictating the play and buzzing around Braden Holtby. They outshot the Caps 8-1 to start the frame, but Burakovsky got the momentum right back as he stole the puck away from Dan Girardi and fired a beautiful shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy. John Carlson sprung him on a breakaway later in the second period which he put through the five-hole of Vasilevskiy for his second goal of the game.

3. Braden Holtby is suddenly unbeatable

The last goal Holtby allowed was 33 seconds into the second period…of Game 5. After not recording a single shutout at all this season, he blanked the Lightning in both Game 6 and Game 7 for back-to-back shutouts.

The Lightning had their opportunities. They pushed and pushed hard all game long, especially in the second period as they recorded eight of the first nine shots on goal of the period.

It didn’t matter.

Holtby was up to the task as he dominated the Lightning yet again, even turning aside a breakaway from Alex Killorn to keep the clean sheet. He made 60 straight saves and did not allow a goal for 159:27. This is just the fifth time in NHL history a goalie recorded a shutout in both Game 6 and Game 7 of a playoff series.

4. Team defense

The Lightning had their chances, but they were frustrated all night long by the all-in defense the Caps played. As good as Holtby was, he let up a lot of juicy rebounds early on. But Tampa Bay could not get a stick to any of them because the Caps defense beat them to the puck all game long.

The Caps recorded 15 blocked shots in the game. Devante Smith-Pelly took a shot block off the back of the neck, T.J. Oshie took one off the boot.

This team was all-in all night long and it frustrated what was the league’s top offense.

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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

Coming off a big win on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins, the Capitals (23-5-5) will look to stay in the win column as they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-11-3). Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for pregame coverage with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 6 p.m. followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. bringing you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Be sure to stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for all your postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here’s what you need to know for Saturday’s game.

Samsonov gets the start

When you are coming off a big win over the second-best team in the NHL, it's not a surprise to see the Caps stick with the same lines at Saturday's morning skate.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

The one surprise is that Ilya Samsonov will start for Washington against a very potent Tampa Bay offense.

One thing to note, since it is the dad's trip it is traditional for every player to get into the lineup for one of the two games. It was expected that Samsonov would start Monday in Columbus, but it looks like that will now go to Braden Holtby. You should also expect to see Travis Boyd on Monday as well.

When last we met

The Caps and Lightning last met on Nov. 29 in a thrilling game that saw Washington rally from a 3-1 deficit with two goals in the third period before winning in overtime. Ovechkin tied the game with a shot from the office on the power play and Dmitry Orlov would go on to record the overtime winner.

As a refresher, you can check out the recap from this game here.

These are two teams that know how to score

Tampa Bay is not obliterating the NHL like it was last year and people are scratching their heads wondering how a team this talented isn’t even currently sitting in a wildcard spot in the standings. One aspect of their game you can’t blame for their struggles this season is the offense as the Lightning rank second in the NHL with 3.57 goals per game. Washington sits just behind them at No. 3 with 3.55.

This year, Tampa Bay’s offense is much more spread out. Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 33 points, tied for 15th in the NHL. That’s a far cry from the 128 points he put up lace season. Behind him there are six Lightning players with over 20 points. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Brayden Point should come as no surprise. The other two, however, are Alex Killorn and Kevin Shattenkirk.

The power play has also been hot for both teams. Tampa Bay is second in the NHL with a 29.6 power play percentage while the Caps are fifth at 24.0.

The Caps hold the advantage on defense

Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s numbers are remarkably similar this season. Holtby has a .911 save percentage and 2.80 GAA while Vasilevskiy has managed a .910 save percentage and 2.78 GAA.

That’s pretty close until you move on to their records this season. Holtby boasts a 16-3-4 record in 24 starts this season. His 16 wins leads the NHL. Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, is 3-8-1 and that says a lot about how much better Washington is playing defensively.

The Caps defense is currently allowing 2.82 goals per game as compared to Tampa Bay’s 3.17. Likewise while there is not much that separates these two teams on the power play, Washington has the superior penalty kill. With Carl Hagelin back in the lineup, the Caps have climbed all the way to third in the NHL at 85.3-percent. The Lightning’s penalty kill is only at 79.8 percent.

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Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

As if any other candidate would even come close, Captain was named Sports Dog of the Year on Friday afternoon.

The four-legged phenom has been everywhere this fall, making his presence felt all over the DMV, and his popularity has extended nationwide.

Captain doesn't take days off and is always ready to have some fun.

He was there to maintain the peace during the biggest shopping day of the year and he made sure your Cyber Monday gifts arrived on time. 

He inspires greatness and has been a driving force behind the Mystics' WNBA Title as well as the Nationals' World Series victory.

He knows when its time to put in the work as well. He's always on time for meetings, and he has never missed a practice.

He's preparing to assist a Veteran or First Responder one day, and he's already making progress.

And he's always ready to celebrate.

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