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.
MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:
- Streak Over: D.C. finally breaks through
- Caps-Lighting: The Ultimate Preview
- Power Ranks: Updated Standings
- Inside the Series: Players to watch
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