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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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Is Alex Ovechkin still the best winger in the NHL?

Is Alex Ovechkin still the best winger in the NHL?

When you win the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals, lead your team to a Stanley Cup and win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, you certainly belong in the discussion among the best in the game.

Even after Alex Ovechkin's incredible season, however, he falls just short of the top spot, according to NHL Network.

The NHL Network revealed the "Top 20 Wings Right Now" rankings as part of its countdown series on Sunday and Ovechkin came in second. Ahead of him was Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A compelling case could certainly be made for both players. Kucherov finished third in the NHL in points with a career-high 100 points (29 goals, 61 assists). Ovechkin, meanwhile, led the NHL in goals with 49 in his 87-point season.

The main argument for Kucherov is that he is 25 while Ovechkin will turn 33 in September and the ranking is for "right now." Ovechkin, however, is still basking in the glow of the Caps' Stanley Cup run which happened just a short two months ago. He also beat and outplayed Kucherov when the Caps met the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, outscoring him with seven points (four goals, three assists) compared to Kucherov's five (one goal, four assists).

Ovechkin's case is a compelling one as evidenced by the fact that he edged out Kucherov in the fan voting.

And then...there's analyst Mike Johnson who believes Ovechkin is neither No. 1 or No. 2. In fact, he barely cracks the top five.

Father Time is undefeated and there will come a point where Ovechkin begins to decline. But when the last competitive NHL hockey game was played, it featured an Ovechkin goal and him hoisting both the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup. Two months wasn't that long ago so perhaps we should not be expecting his production to fall off a cliff just yet.

The Great 8 has a way of making those quick to bury him look pretty foolish. Will he keep up that trend this season?

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2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: Carolina Hurricanes

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2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: Carolina Hurricanes

The Capitals have won the Metropolitan Division three straight years. Can they defend their title? Here’s a preview of each team in the division for the 2018-19 season.

Today's team: Carolina Hurricanes

2017-18 Results: 36-35-11, 83 points, sixth in the division. Did not qualify for the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Micheal Ferland, F Andrei Svechnikov, D Dougie Hamilton, D Calvin de Haan, G Petr Mrazek, head coach Rod Brind’Amour

Notable departures: F Elias Lindholm, F Joakim Nordstrom, F Derek Ryan, F Jeff Skinner, F Lee Stempniak, D Noah Hanifin, G Cam Ward, head coach Bill Peters

When they will play the Caps: Dec. 14 in Raleigh, Dec. 27 in Washington, March 26 in Washington, March 28 in Raleigh

Offseason recap: The offseason was one of change for the Hurricanes as new owner Tom Dundon tried to make his mark. Peters and Ron Francis are out, Brind’Amour and Don Waddell are in as coach and general manager. Carolina’s new front office had a busy offseason with a number of splashy moves.

Hanifin, Lindholm and Skinner all will have new homes next season as the Hurricanes traded all three players in two big-time trades. Hanifin and Lindholm netted the team Hamilton, Ferland and a prospect while Skinner brought back a prospect, a second, a third and a sixth-round pick.

In addition, Carolina also added Svechnikov with the second-overall pick in the draft.

Biggest strength: Defense

Carolina was solid defensively last season, it just didn't seem that way because of how bad the goaltending was. Adding de Haan and Hamilton bolsters what was already a formidable blue line.

Biggest weakness: Goaltending

Did I mention how bad their goaltending was last season? Darling and Ward combined for a .909 save percentage, better only than the Buffalo Sabres. Ward put up better numbers (2.73 GAA, .906 save percentage) than Darling (3.18 GAA, .888 save percentage), but he has moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks. To replace him, the Hurricanes picked up Mrazek who also struggled last season (3.03 GAA, .902 save percentage).

So to recap, Ward and Darling both had subpar years, but to replace Ward the Hurricanes picked up a goalie who was worse.

It makes sense that Carolina would want to give Darling another shot at earning the starting job considering they traded for him to be their starter of the future, but just because the goaltending could not get much worse than last season is no guarantee it will be better.

2018-19 season outlook: The Hurricanes enter the season with a lot of question marks.

Can Brind'Amour handle the responsibilities of being a head coach in the NHL with zero head coaching experience at any level? Did they do enough to address their scoring woes? Will someone play like a starting-caliber goalie? Is Dundon breaking the mold of an NHL owner or will his meddling negatively impact the team? Will Hamilton adjust to his new team? Is Svetchnikov ready for a top-line role in his rookie season? Is Sebastian Aho a center?

If they can find positive answers to all of those questions, this is a team that could surprise. More likely, however, there are simply too many issues in Carolina right now for this team to make any real noise.

A new owner, new general manager, new head coach and a new-look roster are too much for one team to adjust to in one season.

2018-19 season prediction: The Hurricanes miss the playoffs and it's not close.