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Blackhawks edge Lightning 2-1, reach brink of NHL title

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Blackhawks edge Lightning 2-1, reach brink of NHL title

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- With another tenacious road victory in this agonizingly close Stanley Cup Final, the Chicago Blackhawks earned an opportunity to raise that silver trophy on their home ice.

Antoine Vermette scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period, and the Blackhawks moved to the brink of their third NHL championship in six years with a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 on Saturday night.

Corey Crawford made 31 saves and Patrick Sharp scored an early goal into an accidentally unguarded net for the Blackhawks, who took a 3-2 series lead by surviving another tense game in this incredibly even series. The first five games all have been decided by one goal for just the second time in Stanley Cup Final history, and the first time since 1951.

Ben Bishop stopped 27 shots after missing Game 4 with an undisclosed injury, but the goalie's ill-advised venture outside the crease led to Sharp's goal.

Valtteri Filppula scored for the Lightning, who have scored just two goals while losing two straight games for only the second time in their 25-game postseason. Tampa Bay also lost second-leading scorer Nikita Kucherov to a first-period injury when he crashed into the Chicago net.

Game 6 is Monday night in Chicago, and seven remaining members of the Blackhawks' two-time champion core will have the chance to skate the Stanley Cup around the United Center for the first time after winning the other two Cups on the road. The Lightning must win two straight to claim the second Stanley Cup title in franchise history.

Game 5 was another chapter in what's shaping up as the tightest Final ever played. Neither team has even held a two-goal lead through five games, staying tied or one goal apart for all 300 minutes.

The clubs started the third period in a tie for the third straight game, but Vermette cashed in on a loose puck in the slot just two minutes in.

Bishop kicked the puck straight onto Vermette's tape after stopping a rush by Kris Versteeg. Vermette, the veteran forward acquired from Arizona near the trade deadline, also scored the third-period tiebreaker at Amelie Arena in the series opener 10 days ago.

While the Lightning didn't know their goalie's identity until earlier in the day, Crawford delivered another outstanding night in Chicago's crease right when he was most needed. He capped the performance with 16 saves in the third period, performing flawlessly down the stretch just as he did in the previous game.

Bishop decided to play after participating in the morning skate, and the 53-game winner appeared to be moving more fluidly than he did in Game 3. He still gave a goal to the Blackhawks in the first period with an ill-advised venture out of his crease

Bishop roamed almost halfway to the blue line to play a puck and collided with star defenseman Victor Hedman. Sharp ended his 13-game goal drought by skating around the pair and chipping in the open-net gift in front of Tampa Bay's stunned fans.

The Blackhawks had several other golden scoring chances before Filppula's goal, including Teuvo Teravainen missing the net on a clean breakaway. The Lightning evened it when Jason Garrison made a wicked cross-ice pass through Chicago's defense to the Finnish veteran, who ended his six-game goal drought.

The final Saturday night game of the NHL season got off to an ugly start for the Lightning when Kucherov then nearly scored on the play on which he was injured.

Crawford inexplicably passed the puck right at Kucherov, but the Russian forward charged at it and lost his feet when Crawford dived back to his crease. Kucherov hit the post hard with his shoulder or head, skating off hunched over and going straight to Tampa Bay's dressing room.

Rookie Jonathan Drouin took Kucherov's spot on Tampa Bay's vaunted "Triplets" line with playoff scoring leader Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.

NOTES: Drouin returned to Tampa Bay's lineup after the 20-year-old forward sat out three of the series' first four games. D Nikita Nesterov was scratched. ... Replays appeared to show Crawford playing the puck outside the trapezoid behind his net moments before Sharp's first-period goal. ... Dick Vitale, former Buccaneers FB Mike Alstott and Rays OF Kevin Kiermaier attended the game.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Capitals vs. Lightning Game 7 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, time, TV Channel, live stream

Capitals vs. Lightning Game 7 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, time, TV Channel, live stream

Game 7.

It's the best phrase in all of hockey, and on Wednesday, May 23, Game 7 of the 2018 NHL Eastern Conference Final between the Capitals and Lightning will go down in Tampa, Fla.

The Capitals' path to Game 7 was less than ordinary. After racing to a 2-0 series lead with back-to-back road wins in Tampa, the Lightning responded with three straight wins, forcing the Capitals' to the brink of the 2017-18 season.

But in Game 6 on Tuesday night, the team put on their best performance of the season, blanking the Lightning and forcing Game 7 at Amalie Arena.

The winner of Game 7 advances to the Stanley Cup Final, where the Vegas Golden Nights await, having defeated the Winnipeg Jets to advance to the championship round in the team's inaugural season.

Game 7 Capitals at Lightning
Date: Wednesday, May 23
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: Amalie Arena. Tampa, Fla.
TV Channel: NBCSN 
How To Watch Live StreamingNBC Sports App Live Stream
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 FM)

WHEN IS GAME 7 OF THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING SERIES?

Game 7 of the Capitals-Lightning 2018 NHL Eastern Conference Final takes place on Wednesday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m. at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.

WHAT TV CHANNEL IS GAME 7 OF THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING SERIES ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 7 between the Capitals and Lightning is on NBC. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Game 7 Capitals vs. Lightning
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING GAME 7?

Game 7 of the 2018 NHL Eastern Conference Final between the Capitals and Lightning is available for online stream on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the NBC Sports live stream page.

CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING GAME 7 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.