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Capitals vs. Lightning Preview: 3 keys to the series

Capitals vs. Lightning Preview: 3 keys to the series

The Capitals certainly have their work cut out for them in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.

Following a thrilling series against the Penguins, the Capitals now turn their attention to a Tampa Bay Lightning team that has reached this round three times in the last four years and that has a loaded roster. Meanwhile, the Capitals are making their first Eastern Conference Final appearance in 20 years.

If they hope to advance on to the Stanley Cup Final, here are three keys to the series.

3 Keys to the Capitals vs. Lightning Playoff Series

1. Winning the goalie duel

On paper, Tampa is better on offense and defense. If they get the better of the goaltending matchup as well then… well, there’s not much left for the Capitals to build on. Washington must have the edge in goaltending if they hope to win.

Fatigue is a definite question mark when it comes to Vasilevskiy. He already admitted midseason he was struggling with it and, while you could certainly argue that seemed to affect Braden Holtby as well, the difference is that Holtby got a chance to rest thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Holtby played in 54 games in the regular season as compared to Vasilevskiy’s 65. Both goalies have given comparable performances in the playoffs thus far, but the longer this postseason run goes for Vasilevskiy, the more you have to wonder if fatigue will catch up to him again in much the same way it did during the regular season when his numbers plummeted.

Even if fatigue is not a factor, however, Holtby must still find a way to outperform his counterpart. Goaltending can often be a mitigating factor in the playoffs and it needs to be for Washington given how deep the Lightning’s roster is.

2. Taking advantage of the Lightning’s penalty kill

Statistically, Tampa is a strong team in almost every aspect. One area in which they really seem to struggle, however, is the penalty kill.

The Lightning finished 28th in the regular season on the PK at only 76.1-percent.

OK, so that was before they traded for defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Surely the PK must be improving now?

Actually, the penalty kill in the playoffs has been even worse than in the regular season as Tampa has managed to kill only 74.2-percent of the power plays it faced.

Washington’s power play through the first two rounds has been red-hot, scoring on 30.9-percent of its chances. They need to force the Lightning into taking penalties and take advantage when they have the opportunity.

3. Winning the first vs. second line matchup

Steven Stamkos had only four points against the Boston Bruins in the second round. Nikita Kucherov had two. So how was Tampa still able to win in just five games? Because of a dominant performance by the second line which scored nine even-strength goals.

Chances are the Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson line is going to matchup against that second line which is composed of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson. That’s a matchup the Caps have to win.

Boston was not able to take advantage of how well they played against the top line because the second line more than made up for their lack of production. You can bet Washington is taking notes on how the Bruins were able to slow down Stamkos and Kucherov. If the Caps are able to limit them as well, the series will be theirs for the taking if and only if they do not allow Tampa’s second line to make up for the top’s lack of production.

Washington is a very top-heavy team offensively. If the Caps’ top line cannot outscore Tampa’s second and win that matchup, their scoring depth will not be enough to carry them through the series.

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CAPS FACEOFF PODCAST

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

As the NHL continues to focus more on speed and skill, the Capitals took a very old-school approach to Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. From the moment the puck dropped until the clock hit zero, it was clear Washington came into Monday with a very physical game plan.

"It made a big difference," T.J. Oshie said. "I think in these games, everyone’s bringing energy and you kind of want to control that and direct it towards some positive play, some momentum building for your team, and tonight I think we handled that and did that pretty well."

"We just wanted to throw everything we had at them," Stephenson said. "It was a do or die game and we don't want our season to end."

It worked.

The scoresheet officially credited the Caps with 39 hits for the game. The Lightning had only 19. The physical play seemed to wear down Tampa Bay as the game went on.

After an even first period, Washington took a 1-0 lead in the second. Then, very fittingly, a physical fourth line extended that lead to 2-0 in the third to finish the Lightning off.

"All of a sudden now we turn a puck over, you’re back in your end, they’re feeling it, they’re being physical, crowd’s behind them and we’re spending way too much time in our D zone," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "That’s what hurt us."

What made it so effective was the fact that the entire team bought into it. Alex Ovechkin was certainly the most noticeable player as he threw himself around like a wrecking ball against everyone wearing a white jersey. But it was not just his line. Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six hits, Devante Smith-Pelly recorded five of his own while Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had four.

The Lightning faced a constant barrage from the Caps from every line and defensive pair. There was no respite.

The hits also gave the fans plenty to cheer for.

The Caps were playing an elimination game at home and Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was standing on his head. Even with the score locked at 0-0 through the first period, the crowd was still very much into the game. There was no apprehension, there was no quiet tension. There was just a loud crowd cheering on its team.

"[The fans] were loud right from the start, which I think we fed off of and wanted to give them something back," Brooks Orpik said. "We didn't get a goal early. I think some of the physical play kind of helped carry that. They were great for us."

Now in the third round of the playoffs after six intense games between the Caps and Lightning, the hope is that Game 6's physical play will continue to take its toll on Tampa Bay heading into Game 7.

"We need to do that every game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's our forecheck. Hopefully, we can keep it going here in Game 7."

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