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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.

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Caps Top 20 Goals Countdown - Goal 6 - Ovechkin opens Game 7 vs TB with a bang

Caps Top 20 Goals Countdown - Goal 6 - Ovechkin opens Game 7 vs TB with a bang

Always the emotional leader of the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin knew that when he woke up on May 23, 2018, that he had the chance to alter the course of his personal history and help push the Capitals to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1998.

Before the puck dropped on a win-or-go-home Game 7, the determination was painted on Ovechkin’s face and on his first shift in the game just 1:02 into the contest in Tampa Bay, the Capitals captain found the back of the net with a one-timer from the point to put his stamp on the game.

Number 6 on our countdown of the Top 20 Goals of the Stanley Cup run is Ovechkin’s opener in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final which catapulted the Capitals to a 4-0 win on the road.

After a strong backcheck and hit by Tom Wilson at center dislodged the puck from Chris Kunitz, he and Evgeny Kuznetsov turned the puck back towards the Lightning zone with Ovechkin trailing the play up the left wing. A drop pass from Wilson right after he crossed the blue line left Kuznetsov with the space needed to whip the puck across the zone to Ovechkin who wasted no time in firing past an unsuspecting Andrei Vasilevskiy for the opening goal of the pivotal game.

The site of one of Ovechkin’s iconic celebrations, the infamous “hot stick” celebration when the captain tallied his 50th goal of the season in 2009, Tampa has always treated the Great 8 kindly as the top line winger entered the 2018 postseason with 14 goals in 22 regular season games in the city. After the Caps finally clinched their spot back in the Stanley Cup Final, Tampa likely will always have a special place in the hearts of Capitals fans and Ovechkin alike.

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The Flyers almost played with an ineligible player against the Capitals

The Flyers almost played with an ineligible player against the Capitals

Before the Caps took down the Flyers 3-1 Sunday afternoon, referees Tim Peel and Ghislain Hebert huddled at center ice to discuss what appeared to be a mistake on the Flyers roster card.

The Flyers submitted a wrong name on their lineup card, and the referees caught it.

The Flyers listed Phil Varone as part of their lineup when the card should have listed Justin Bailey.

According to Elliotte Friedman's 31 Thoughts, had the refs found the mistake after puck drop, neither Varone nor Bailey would have been eligible to play. "That’s the second time that mistake’s been caught recently," Friedman explained.

"Officials are looking for it."

 

Both Varone and Bailey don't see much ice time. They average under 10 minutes per game and have not cracked 10 points this season.

The rule, listed in the NHL Rulebook for the 2018-19 season as 5.1 and 5.2, addresses which players are deemed eligible and what happens if an ineligible player is caught during the course of play.

Teams must submit a roster, either from their coach or their manager, prior to puck drop, consisting of 18 skaters and two goalies and, if necessary, one non-uniformed player. The referees then look over the roster to make sure everything checks out. If the refs spot a mistake, they must talk to the offending team so they can correct it. The offending team doesn't receive a penalty for the mistake.

Once the game begins, team rosters are locked in. Had the referees noticed Bailey was on the ice after puck drop, Bailey would be deemed an ineligible player for the rest of the game, and the Flyers could not have substituted another player in his place, so they would have been without a forward.

Additionally, if Jakub Voracek's power play goal was scored with Bailey on the ice, it would not have counted, even if Bailey was not involved in the play.

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