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Eastern Conference Final: Capitals vs. Lightning predictions, projections

Eastern Conference Final: Capitals vs. Lightning predictions, projections

On Friday, the Capitals will head to Tampa, Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final

The Capitals are coming off a historic win, one that they've been waiting for since 1998, while the Lightning went on a four-game winning streak against the Boston Bruins to get to this point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

A lot stands in front of the Capitals in this matchup. They will be getting Tom Wilson back on their top line but the return of Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky is still up in the air. The Lightning have speed, scoring depth, and deeper playoff experience. However, their goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy has admitted to being affected by fatigue during the regular season, something the Caps could use to their advantage if the series goes to seven games. 

With all of that being taken into consideration, what are analyst predicting, as well as saying, ahead of Game 1? 

Capitals vs. Lighting Predictions:

Joe Beninati, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals play-by-play announcer: Capitals in 7
Ryan Billie, Caps GameTime and Caps Extra producer: Capitals in 7
Tarik El-Bashir, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals Insider: Capitals in 7
Rob Carlin, NBC Sports Washington Capitals anchor: Capitals in 6
Brent Johnson, NBC Sports Washingon analyst, and former NHL goalie: Lightning in 7
Al Koken, NBC Sports Washington Capitals on-ice reporter: Capitals in 6
Courtney Laughlin, Caps FaceOff and Caps Overtime panelist: Capitals in 7
Craig Laughlin, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals color commentator: Capitals in 6
Troy Machir, NBC Sports Washingon senior digital producer: Lightning in 5
Alan May, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals analyst: Capitals in 7
Jason Murphy, Caps Faceoff and Caps Overtime producer: Capitals in 5
Grant Paulsen, host of Caps FaceOff and Caps Overtime: Lightning in 6
JJ Regan, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals digital producer: Capitals in 6
Jeremy Roenick, NBC Sports NHL analyst: Lightning in 7

NHL.com (Tom Gulitti): "In the conference final for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era, which began in 2005-06, and for the first time since 1998, the Capitals have the feel of a team of destiny. And they are playing with a determination and commitment defensively they'd previously lacked. It will be a big challenge to get past the Lightning, who are deeper at forward and on defense, but after dethroning the Penguins, the Capitals' belief in themselves will carry them through to the Stanley Cup Final."

Tampa Bay Times (Tom Jones): "Goaltending, of course. We always say that. But it's true. Holtby is a former Vezina Trophy winner. The Lightning's Andrei Vasilevskiy is a finalist for the Vezina. Both are superb. But which one is more likely to give up a softie at a bad time? My guess is Holtby, giving the Lightning a slight edge in goal." 

SB Nation (Raw Charge): "Lightning in 7. My initial thought was Lightning in 6, but Holtby isn’t Rask, and Washington is playing with house money (not many expected them to make it this far). Holtby is going to steal at least one game, and Washington’s forward talent is going to cause problems all series for Tampa Bay. If the Lightning somehow manage to make this series a short one, then I’m just going to throw my notes out the window and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. "I still doubt this goes shorter than 6 games, though. I expect a hungry Capitals team ready to prove that they can go the distance. However, I still think Tampa Bay will come out on top."

NHL.com (Tracey Myers): "Like the Penguins, the Lightning got much of their scoring in the last round from one line. Unlike the Penguins, the Lightning aren't feeling the effects from winning the Stanley Cup two straight years. I see the Lightning having a more balanced production this round. And if the Capitals are without forward Nicklas Backstrom, that doesn't help their situation. Washington is going to have its hands full with Tampa Bay, and I think the Lightning will prevail."

Sports Illustrated: "The Caps are underdogs, and with good reason. They simply can't match the depth of the Lightning. Unless Andrei Vasilevskiy flops in net, the Lightning should have a clear path to the Cup Finals. The Caps are good enough to steal a game or two, but this one looks like it's Tampa's. Tampa in 6."

Capitals vs. Lighting Odds:

This will mark the third playoff meeting between the Capitals and Lightning. During the first round of the 2003 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Lightning eliminated the Capitals 4-2 and again in 2011 in the second round, 4-0. The Caps finished 1-1-1 against the Lightning during the 2017-18 season. 

According to OddsShark, the Lightning are favored in Game 1, -175.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

The wait is finally over. 

After two decades, the Capitals are back in the Stanley Cup Final. 

After a convincing 4-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals are in Vegas to take on the Golden Knights. They'll be facing off against a handful of familiar names, with former Caps GM George McPhee, fan favorite Nate Schmidt, and ex-Penguins goalie Marc Andre-Fluery are just a few of the names that'll be suiting up for Vegas. 

What will the X-factors in the series be? Who will be the unexpected heroes of Game 1? The action is almost underway, and here are all the details you need to know.

Game 1 Capitals at Golden Knights
Date: Monday, May 28
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV.
TV Channel: NBCSN 
How To Watch Live StreamingNBC Sports App Live Stream
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 FM)

WHEN IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES?

Game 1 of the Capitals-Golden Knights 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final takes place on Monday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.

WHAT TV CHANNEL IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 1 between the Capitals and Golden Knights is on NBC. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

5:00 p.m. — Caps Cup Preview
6:00 p.m. — Caps GameDay Live
6:30 p.m. — Caps Face Off
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Game 1 Capitals vs. Golden Knights
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1?

Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and Golden Knights is available for online stream on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the NBC Sports live stream page.

CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals digital producer JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.