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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: The ultimate Capitals-Lightning preview

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: The ultimate Capitals-Lightning preview

The Capitals' big win over the Pittsburgh Penguins had all the feelings of a championship victory, but Washington has only made it halfway to their ultimate goal of winning the 2018 Stanley Cup. Eight wins down, eight to go.

Now they move on to the Eastern Conference Final to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Unlike in the last series, there is little history between these two teams to draw upon. They have met in the postseason only twice, both wins for the Lightning.

Tampa will enter this round a confident team having only lost twice through their first two series. They defeated both the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins, a team that finished second in the conference, in just five games.

But there may be no team more confident now than the Capitals, having just defeated the two-time defending champions, a team that has haunted them for years, to finally get over the second-round hump.

Eastern Conference Final: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Schedule

Game 1: Capitals at Lightning. Friday, 5/11 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBCSN)
Game 2: Capitals at Lightning. Sunday, 5/13 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBCSN)
Game 3: Lightning at Capitals. Tuesday, 5/15 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBCSN)
Game 4: Lightning at Capitals. Thursday, 5/17 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBCSN)
Game 5: Capitals at Lightning. Saturday, 5/19 at 7:15 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC)
Game 6: Lightning at Capitals. Monday, 5/21 (Broadcast on NBCSN)
Game 7 (If Necessary): Capitals at Lightning. Wednesday, 5/23 (Broadcast on NBCSN)

View full detailed schedule here.

2017-18 Team stats

Washington Capitals

  • 49-26-7, 105 points, first in the Metropolitan Division
  • 3.12 goals per game (9th)
  • 2.90 goals against per game (16th)
  • 22.5-percent power play percentage (7th)
  • 80.3 penalty kill percentage (15th)
     

Tampa Bay Lightning

  • 54-23-5, 113 points, first in the Atlantic Division
  • 3.54 goals per game (1st)
  • 2.85 goals against per game (13th)
  • 23.9 power play percentage (3rd)
  • 76.1 penalty kill percentage (28th)

Top Performers

Washington

Goals

Regular season
  1. Alex Ovechkin – 49
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 27
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 21
Playoffs
  1. Alex Ovechkin - 8
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov - 7
  3. T.J. Oshie - 5

Assists

Regular season
  1. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 56
  2. John Carlson – 53
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 50
Playoffs
  1. Nicklas Backstrom - 10
  2. John Carlson - 8
  3. Evgeny Kuznetsov - 7
  4. Alex Ovechkin - 7

Points

Regular season
  1. Alex Ovechkin – 87
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 83
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 71
Playoffs
  1. Alex Ovechkin - 15
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov - 14
  3. Nicklas Backstrom - 13

Tampa Bay

Goals

Regular season
  1. Nikita Kucherov - 39
  2. Brayden Point - 32
  3. Steven Stamkos - 27
Playoffs
  1. Nikita Kucherov - 6
  2. Alex Killorn - 4
  3. Ondrej Palat - 4
  4. Brayden Point - 4

Assists

Regular season
  1. Nikita Kucherov - 61
  2. Steven Stamkos - 59
  3. Victor Hedman - 46
Playoffs
  1. Steven Stamkos - 7
  2. Victor Hedman - 6
  3. Brayden Point - 6
  4. Nikita Kucherov - 6

Points

Regular season
  1. Nikita Kucherov - 100
  2. Steven Stamkos - 86
  3. Brayden Point - 66
Playoffs
  1. Nikita Kucherov - 12
  2. Brayden Point - 10
  3. Steven Stamkos - 10

Goaltending

The Capitals will be facing the Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy who has been the backbone of Tampa's incredible season.

Both Holtby and Vasilevskiy have seen their ups and downs this season. Holtby went through a rough patch from the start of February stretching into March before Barry Trotz took him out of the net and gave him time to reset. Philipp Grubauer started the playoffs, but Holtby came on in relief in Game 2 of the first round and has not looked back. He has outplayed both Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Murray to bring Washington to this point.

Vasilevskiy seemed to struggle down the stretch and even admitted publicly that he was dealing with fatigue. From the start of the season to Feb. 1, Vasilevskiy posted a .931 save percentage, 2.18 GAA and seven shutouts in 41 games played. From Feb. 1 through the end of the season, he managed only a .902 save percentage, 3.37 GAA and one shutout. He has found his second wind in the playoffs thus far and Tampa will hope he continues playing like the first half goalie who was lights out. But it is fair to wonder just how much he has left in the tank.

Washington

Regular season

Braden Holtby: 54 GP, 34-16-4 record, .907 save percentage, 2.99 GAA, 0 shutouts
Philipp Grubauer: 35 GP, 15-10-3 record, .923 save percentage, 2.35 GAA, 3 shutouts

Playoffs

Braden Holtby: 11 GP, 8-3 record, .926 save percentage, 2.04 GAA, 0 shutouts
Philipp Grubauer: 2 GP, 0-1 record, .837 save percentage, 4.55 GAA, 0 shutouts

Tampa Bay

Regular season

Andrei Vasilevskiy: 65 GP, 44-17-3 record, .919 save percentage, 2.62 GAA, 8 shutout
Louis Domingue: 12 GP, 7-3-1 record, .914 save percentage, 2.89 GAA, 0 shutouts
Peter Budaj: 8 GP, 3-3-1 record, .875 save percentage, 3.76 GAA, 0 shutout

Playoffs

Andrei Vasilevskity : 10 GP, 8-2 record, .927 save percentage, 2.20 GAA, 0 shutouts

Head-to-head record

Capitals finished with a 1-1-1 record against Tampa Bay

Oct. 9: 4-3 Lightning overtime win

The Caps took a 2-0 lead in the first period, but the Lightning exploited what was a very suspect defense at the time for a 4-3 overtime win. A third pairing of Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney was exposed badly and Ness was called for two penalties.

Nov. 24: 3-1 Capitals win

This game was part of a season-defining stretch for the Caps. Just 10 days prior, Washington was blown out by the Nashville Predators and again by the Colorado Avalanche two days after that. The Caps would rebound by winning eight of their next 10 games. A back-to-back against the Lightning, who had the best record in the NHL at the time, and the Toronto Maple Leafs looked like a daunting stretch. Philipp Grubauer got the start and was brilliant for Washington and Jay Beagle led the offense with a goal and an assist.

Feb. 20: 4-2 Lightning win

The Caps took a penalty 34 seconds into the game and Brayden Point scored on the resulting power play, his first of two goals on the night. Tampa Bay took a 3-0 lead in the first period which they rode all the way to the finish. Washington was the better team for the final 40 minutes, but they were not able to close the gap. 

X-Factors

1. Health: The Caps won Game 6 without three of their top-six forwards., but they likely won't be able to win a seven-game series against the Lightning that way. They will get Tom Wilson back from suspension, but what about Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom?

2. The second line: Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson is about as formidable a second line as a team can have. Whether Backstrom plays or not, the Caps must get production from its second line. If Washington cannot even rely on getting production from its second line, they will be in trouble.

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

4. Confidence: Tampa looks better on paper, but there is something to be said 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.  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.

Check out the full article here.

Players to watch

Michal Kempny:  The Caps addressed their blue line at the trade deadline with the acquisition of Kempny who has slid into a top-four role alongside John Carlson. His addition has bolstered a defense that looked like a clear weakness for Washington. But now both he and the defense are going to be put to the test by the high-powered offense of the Lightning.

Chris Kunitz: Kunitz may be a fourth-line player, but he scored the double-overtime winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last year for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is someone who knows how to perform in the biggest moments.

Jakub Vrana: Tampa has the edge in scoring depth, but Vrana is Washington’s best offensive threat that is not established in the top six. He needs to utilize his speed and put points on the board.

Brayden Point: In three games against Washington this season, Point recorded three goals and one assist and is producing at a point per game in the playoffs. He is a star in the making and could potentially have a very big series.

Lars Eller: With the health of Nicklas Backstrom a question mark, Eller will play on the second line until he is ready to return. If Backstrom does miss time, Eller will have to fill in and make sure the second line is able to both produce offensively while not giving up too much in the defensive zone.

See the full article here.

3 keys of the series for Washington

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, but even if it is not, Holtby must still find a way to outperform his counterpart. 

2. Taking advantage of the Lightning's penalty kill: Statistically, Tampa is a strong team in almost every aspect, but they really seem to struggle on the penalty kill. In the postseason, the Lightning are killing only 74.2-percent of the power plays they face. 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: Chances are the Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson line is going to matchup against Tampa's second line which is composed of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson. That’s a matchup the Caps have to win. The Boston Bruins liminted Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov to only six combined points, but still lost because the second line ran wild. 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.

See the full article here.

Expert picks

Joe Beninati, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals play-by-play announcer: Capitals in 7
Ryan Billie, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals senior TV producer: Capitals in 7
Tarik El-Bashir, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals Insider: Capitals in 7
Rob Carlin, NBC Sports Washington on-air host of Capitals GameTime and Capitals Extra: 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, NBC Sports Washington Caps FaceOff and 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

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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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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

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Scout Pruski

Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?

What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.

What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?

First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.

"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."

And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.

I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.

Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.

Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.

Other key Caps questions: