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Conference Final

Capitals proving they belong after Game 2 win against Lightning

Another impressive victory has Washington halfway to Stanley Cup Final

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

TAMPA -- The weight isn't so weighty these days. The shoulders are higher. The minds clearer.

The Washington Capitals have left behind some of what has dogged them: the doubts, the questions, the assumption that games this late in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were not for them. They have proven that, after all the early exits, this team is different, no matter what happens from here.

The view looks good. It looks positive. The Capitals are positioned exactly where they hoped after a 6-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday, eager to give their fans what they've been missing for two decades.


[RELATED: Eller steps up with Backstrom out | Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]


They head back to Capital One Arena for Game 3 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, halfway to the Stanley Cup Final.

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm2: Trotz on team bonding, Ovi's great play

"I think our team is confident," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "I think when you're confident, you're free. I think the way we've played probably has freed us up a little bit, and then we're a little more patient in some areas. We execute and we understand those big moments a little better.

"I think from our standpoint, a lot of guys have learned a lot of tough lessons and going forward we just keep growing."

And keep winning.

Of course, there is a lot of hockey left to play, as any member of the Capitals would be quick to caution.

But still, this what they wanted, what they could only have dreamed of, the idea of coming into Tampa and sweeping through the presumptive Cup Final-bound Lightning in convincing fashion with two no-doubt wins to start the series.

"It's huge," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "But it's not over yet. We're going to come back home and do our thing to take another one. It's going to be hard. We knew they are experienced team. They have tremendous players over there. We just have to play the same way, and don't give them anything."

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm2: Ovechkin buries Kuznetsov's setup

The Capitals trailed 2-1 in the first period, after a Tom Wilson tip 28 seconds into the game stunned the crowd and the Lightning rallied with two power-play goals. But Devante Smith-Pelly executed on a 2-on-1 with Alex Chiasson at 2:50 of the second to tie the game for the Capitals.

And then came the truly stunning part.

With 1:02 left in the second period, Lars Eller scored from in front of the net to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead. Then, after a tripping call on Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with 9.8 seconds left, Washington scored a power-play goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov with 2.9 seconds remaining after the puck deflected off Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh's stick.

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm2: Kuznetsov pots PPG late in the 2nd

The Capitals never looked back, adding goals by Ovechkin (3:34) and Brett Connolly (12:57) in the third.

"We did our job here," Connolly said. "We've got to keep the foot on the gas. We're playing good. They look like they're frustrated a little bit over there. We've got to keep playing hard, keep playing fast, and stay on them."

So, yes, this should feel good.

While forward Steven Stamkos is saying that the Lightning "have not played to our potential in this series," the Capitals are finding just about everything working for them, from the promotion of Eller to the second-line center role with Nicklas Backstrom injured to the sudden ability to score with seconds left before intermission, which they also did with 5.3 seconds remaining in the first period in Game 1.

They have found success on the road, going 7-1 in the postseason. They have found success in a goaltender, Braden Holtby, who did not start Game 1 of these playoffs. They have not panicked when calls or plays have gone against them, when they could have been pushed off their game, frustrated and unhappy. Though they have seen that happen to the Lightning on the other side.

"When you see [Lightning forward Nikita] Kucherov kind of kick me there, that's what you want," Connolly said. "You want their star players to be frustrated. He's a [heck of a] player. You try to play him hard, and whether he likes it or not, I don't think anybody cares. It's playoff hockey, and we've got a chance to go to the Final here, so everybody is playing as hard as they can."

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm2: Connolly snipes one past Vasilevskiy

They can see the Final from where they stand, heading back home, up 2-0 in the series. They can see their goals just ahead of them, within reach. And yet, they know the road forward will not be easy. They understand that.

"I think the series is going to get harder and harder," Eller said. "They're not going to lie down and give it to us for free."

They know how far they have come and where they're going. They're ready for what comes next.

"I can't wait to go home and play the game," Ovechkin said. "The fans are gonna be all over the place. We're waiting for this moment a long time."



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