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Capitals vs. Lightning Preview: X-factors that could swing the Eastern Conference Finals

Capitals vs. Lightning Preview: X-factors that could swing the Eastern Conference Finals

Before the puck drops in Game 1 of 2018 NHL Eastern Conference Finals between the Capitals and Lightning, fans and analysts alike will pore over every stat, every matchup, every piece of data we can find to try and figure out just who has the advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals between Washington and Tampa Bay.

This, however, is the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No matter how much you dive into the series, there are always certain factors that can change a series and remind you that you might as well throw away the stats when it comes to the postseason.

Here are a few x-factors that may end up swinging the series.

Capitals vs. Lightning Preview: The X-Factors

1. Health

The Caps played Game 6 against Pittsburgh without three of their top-six forwards. Anything can happen in one game and Washington came away with the win, but chances are the Caps don't win a seven-game series against the Lightning if they are missing that many players. Washington will get Tom Wilson back from suspension for Game 1, but that still leaves Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky as question marks.

Burakovsky continues to progress as he skated in a non-contact jersey on Wednesday. The question is just how healthy is Backstrom? Can the Caps get through a very deep Tampa team without Backstrom? That’s a tall task. Washington needs him back as soon as possible.

2. The Second Line

Speaking of Backstrom, one reason he will be so important is because of who Tampa has on its second line. Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson is about as formidable a second line as a team can have.

The top lines for both teams are going to get their points. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are going to produce. Whether Backstrom plays or not, the Caps must get production from its second line.

Overall, Tampa appears to have more scoring depth. If Washington cannot even rely on getting production from its second line, they will be in trouble.

3. Goalie Fatigue

There’s no way around it, the Lightning’s roster is stacked. Their second line would replace the top line on most teams in the league, their blue line features one of the best defensemen in the world in Victor Hedman and in net, Andrei Vasilevskiy is a nominee for the Vezina Trophy. Given how good their lineup is, Holtby must be the better goalie in this series for Washington to win. The good news is that there is reason to believe the Caps could actually have an advantage between the pipes.

Holtby and Vasilevskiy’s numbers in the postseason thus far have been fairly comparable:

Braden Holtby: 11 GP, 8-3 record, .926 save percentage, 2.04 GAA, 0 shutouts
Andrei Vasilevskiy: 10 GP, 8-2 record, .927 save percentage, 2.20 GAA, 0 shutouts

Like Holtby, Vasilevskiy seemed to struggle down the stretch and even admitted publicly that he was dealing with fatigue.

After he said that, his numbers plummeted. In his final 10 appearances of the regular season, Vasilevskiy mustered only a .886 save percentage and 3.67 GAA. Vasilevskiy played 65 games in the regular season as compared to Holtby’s 54. The fact that Tampa has won both of its series in just five games certainly helps as he will get some time in between to recover, but the wear and tear of an NHL season does not disappear in just a week. He is about to play in the most high-intensity games he has played this season, every other day.

The longer this series goes on, the more fatigue could play a factor.

4. Confidence

On paper, it is hard to see how Tampa loses. They have a deeper roster, more playoff experience, they have had more time to rest and have home-ice advantage. There is something to be said, however, for confidence and momentum.

Yes, the Lightning just beat the Boston Bruins, the second best team in the east and a team that many thought could win the Stanley Cup this season. The Capitals, however, just caught their white whale. They finally got over the hump of the second round and finally beat the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

When the US beat the Soviet Union in 1980, it didn’t matter that they still had to play Finland to win gold. When the Boston Red Sox overcame a 3-0 series deficit to beat the New York Yankees in 2004, it didn’t matter that they still had to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Sometimes when a sports team finally overcomes that impossible obstacle, when they climb that impassible mountain, it doesn’t matter how much further they have to go. The momentum and the confidence of that win can carry them all the way to the end.

It's not guaranteed now that this will happen. Just as often we see teams unable to get past the high of their achievement and ultimately cannot focus on finishing the job. But if you know what beating Pittsburgh means to the Capitals and to the city of Washington, it would not be surprising to see the Capitals come out with a lot of confidence and play a lot better than many expect.

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Alex Ovechkin and wife Nastya Ovechkina welcome baby boy

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NBC Sports Washington/USATSI

Alex Ovechkin and wife Nastya Ovechkina welcome baby boy

After lifting the Stanley Cup just over two months ago, something else very exciting has happened in Alex Ovechkin's life.

Saturday morning, Nastya and Alex Ovechkin welcomed their first child, a baby boy named Sergei, after Ovechkin's late brother. 

Ovi spent this week practicing at the Florida Panthers' facilities with other NHL players living in the surrounding area.

After the Cup's visit to Moscow, Nastya and Alex settled down at their apartment in Miami, staying put and preparing for the birth. 

The couple were married two years ago but didn't hold an official ceremony until July of last year. The celebration was as lavish as you'd expect.

She revealed her pregnancy shortly after the Cup victory, and has kept us up to date on life this summer via Instagram. A few weeks ago, the Ovechkins graced HELLO! Russia magazine, showing off Nastya's baby bump among their glamour shots.

💛 @aleksandrovechkinofficial #hello #hellorussia @hello__ru

A post shared by Nastasiya Ovechkina (@nastyashubskaya) on

Congratulations to Ovi and Nastya, and all our best wishes for health and happiness!

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Capitals draft pick admits he is...a Flyers fan

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals draft pick admits he is...a Flyers fan

Say it ain't so.

Mitchell Gibson is the first goalie the Capitals have drafted since Ilya Samsonov in 2015, but they may be thinking twice about their selection after a recent shocking interview.

Gibson spoke with a local Philadelphia CBS station and revealed that both he and his family...are Flyers fans.

Insert dramatic music.

"I think my family will always be Flyers fans in their hearts and I guess I will be a little bit," Gibson admitted, hopefully with guilt in his voice.

Gibson was selected by the Caps in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, but clearly the scouts did not do their homework. It's as if Gibson grew up a hockey fan in a place like Phoenixville, Pa. (about an hour outside of Philadelphia) without anticipating the future that he may one day be drafted by a rival team like Washington.

Shame, shame.

The young netminder tried to make up for his horrifying admission later in the interview.

"The Capitals are definitely treating me well right now so I would like to be their goalie," he said.

A likely story.

Gibson is only 19 and set to begin his first collegiate season at Harvard in 2018 so at least there is still time for Gibson to overcome his shameful past. And hey, it could always be worse. At least he's not a Penguins fan.

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