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NHL Power Rankings: Inside the Conference Finals

NHL Power Rankings: Inside the Conference Finals

We're down to the final four in the NHL Playoffs. Caps. Lightning. Jets. Golden Knights. Who will advance to the Stanley Cup Final and get a shot at the Cup?

It's still early in the Eastern and Western Conference Finals, but with Washington destroying Tampa Bay on the road to take a 2-0 series lead, that has to count for a lot. Here's a look at our four-team power rankings before we get deeper into each series.

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4. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning were the first team to punch their tickets to the conference final, but back-to-back disasters with home-ice advantage against the Caps has them returning to Washington in a dangerous hole.

3. Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas wasn't supposed to make the playoffs, but now it has two series wins on its resume. But the Knights will have to step up on offense to take down the Jets.

2. Washington Capitals

The Caps' offense is on fire with Braden Holtby holding down the fort in goal. Through the first two games of the series, they've outscored the Lightning 10-4, and their 6-2 victory Sunday had six different goal-scorers, with Lars Eller getting the go-ahead goal.

1. Winnipeg Jets

Still the team to beat, the Jets are riding a wave of confidence after eliminating Nashville and besting Vegas in the first game of the series. If they can keep it up, they'll cruise to the Stanley Cup Final.

PHOTO GALLERY: NHL PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS

MORE CAPS-LIGHTNING:

PHOTO GALLERY: NHL PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS

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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: One win away

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: One win away

Twenty years. That's the last time a Washington team from one of the four major sports reached the semifinals.

The Caps hold a 3-2 series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins and sit just one win away from reaching the conference final. It will be the first time since 1998 that the Caps have advanced that far in the playoffs. That is also the last time any of Washington's major sports teams (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB) have reached the semifinals, the longest such drought among North American cities with at least three major sports teams.

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While the Caps still have work to do, two teams have already punched their tickets to the conference final as the Tampa Bay Lightning dispatched the Boston Bruins in five games and the Vegas Golden Knights finished off the San Jose Sharks in six.

Tampa finished first in the Eastern Conference and for much of the season looked like the frontrunner to win the Presidents' Trophy. The Lightning did not have as strong a finish and many thought the Bruins were actually the team to beat in the east. Tampa showed that you can count them out at your own risk with a dominant Second Round performance.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

Vegas' incredible season continues as the Golden Knights now sit four wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final. As an expansion team, just reaching the playoffs was a major accomplishment. Now they have won two playoff series in the inaugural season.

Besides Caps-Penguins, there is one other series still yet to be decided. 

In a series between the top two teams in the league (a Second Round matchup thanks to the NHL's nonsensical playoff format), the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators have their backs on the ropes against the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets hold a 3-2 series lead over Nashville in what has already been the best postseason in franchise history.

The Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets had never even won a playoff game until this season. The Thrashers made the playoffs only once in 2007 and were swept by the New York Rangers. After moving to Winnipeg, the Jets reached the playoffs in 2015 and were swept by the Anaheim Ducks.

Now the Jets are one win away from the conference final and could very well be the frontrunner to win the Stanley Cup...according to the Power Rankings.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are you a pessimist or optimist with the Capitals?

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are you a pessimist or optimist with the Capitals?

The Second Round of the NHL Playoffs is already shaping up to be more competitive across the board compared to the First Round. No series is more than two games in and already the lower seed has taken a home game from the higher seeds.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

For the Capitals, it was more of the same in their first contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jumping on an early 2-0 lead in Game 1, the Caps then allowed the Penguins to slowly climb back and eventually take the victory.

In Game 2 Washington finished the job after going up 2-0, eventually 3-0, and then shut the door defensively on Pittsburgh.

Which team though is the real Capitals? All three of the playoff losses saw the Capitals go up with a two-goal advantage. They’ve proven they can’t hold on to a lead, but they’ve also had lead in every single playoff matchup. Bottom line, they can't really be trusted yet...

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

Over in the Atlantic the Boston Bruins, who had to will their way through the Toronto Maple Leafs, dealt Tampa Bay Lightning their first home loss of this postseason. No need to say the Bruins are tired after their seven-game series, they rolled to the tune of six goals in their Game 1 win. Jake DeBrusk is flying around with one of the older crews in the league and has six goals so far in the playoffs.

All the ‘favorites’ though remain out west. The heavyweight bout between the Winning Jets and the Nashville Predators could easily have been for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. Keep an eye on Jets’ net minder Connor Hellebuyck, he has been killing it with a 92.8 percent save mark in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Oh and don’t forget about the Las Vegas Golden Knights. They scored seven – not a typo – goals in Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks.

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