May 23, 2018 - Reston, VA
By Tom Barbieri @heytombarbieri
So this is it. Tonight a Washington DC sports team has a chance to make it to a championship game/series for the first time in 20 years - and tonight, just like it was in 1998, it's the Washington Capitals.
This can happen at game seven of the NHL Eastern Conference Finals tonight at Amalie Arena in Tampa (8 pm ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVAS).
Can the Capitals do this? They are the more physical team, have the ability to score more goals (…3.44 GF/GP - the most in the playoffs this year), and the best natural goal scorer in the history of the NHL in Alex Ovechkin.
The Capitals dominate the NHL playoffs stats sheet of teams still in the tournament:
- Points (Ovechkin 21 & Kuznetsov 23)
- Goals (Kuznetsov & Ovechkin both at 11)
- Assists (Carlson & Backstrom both at 12)
- Plus-Minus (Orpik at +14)
- GAA (Holtby at 2.16).
But will they...? It'll take the Capitals all four lines going after each shift like it's their last that will ultimately push this Capitals team to the the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Capitals will be playing their 19th game of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight. This is the most of any team and I think favors the Capitals due to their regular (…and post-season) swings in performance. With a 3-0 domination of game 6, we may see the Capitals on the same upswing that we saw against the Penguins in the conference semis, and the first two games of these conference finals.
Tampa Bay has the experience and leadership that gives them the fortitude needed to win big games when the stakes are high. There are five players on this Lightening team that know the Capitals very well - Kunitz, Miller, McDonagh, Callahan, and Girardi. This experience paired with the goal scoring finesse and talent of Kucherov, Point, and Palat, will make this one of the best playoff hockey games we'll ever see. The only problem is that Tampa Bay has only three players in the top ten of points and goal scoring only for the NHL Playoffs. All other categories are dominated by the Capitals.
The power play will be huge for the Capitals. Washington has a PP success of 29.8% to Tampa’s PK efficacy of 73.9%. But Washington certainly needs to box out the Lightening on their power play as the Capitals have a 75% kill to Tampa’s 29.8% power play conversion. This means of what we’e seen recently in the Capitals Eller, Wilson, DSP, and Orpik need to keep those careless penalties to a null and not give extra room on the ice for Stamkos or Kucherov to dominate the puck.
Then we have our goalies - Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy will be a big difference in this game; but not the only difference. This is the most even goalie match-up we've seen in years. If these guys are on, and moving through the crease like their respective teams have been providing the offense, we’ll see a 1-goal win.
And, of course, all this doesn’t really matter. Does it? Tonight it's sixty minutes of two-hundred foot hockey that will determine our Eastern Conference champion. This is why NHL has the best playoff format of any major sport. I know we’ll be watching with turbulent emotions as these two teams play the games of their lives tonight.
I’ll take the Capitals for the win. 3-1.