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Stanley Cup

Capitals reach Stanley Cup Final behind Holtby, success on road

Production of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov help put Washington in sight of first championship

by Brian McNally / NHL.com Correspondent

The Washington Capitals advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998 after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday.

The Capitals, who trailed the best-of-7 series 3-2, will play in the Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, with Game 1 at T-Mobile Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

This will be Washington's second trip to the Final; it was swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage | Stanley Cup Final schedule]

 

Here are 5 reasons the Capitals advanced: 

 

1. Red-hot Holtby

The backup to Philipp Grubauer when the Stanley Cup Playoffs began, Braden Holtby became the 27th goaltender to have a Game 7 shutout and the fifth to do so to reach the Cup Final. Only Olaf Kolzig had back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs for Washington; he did it in the second round against the Ottawa Senators in 1998. Holtby, who has a 2.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage this postseason, stopped 159 of 173 shots against the Lightning (.919 save percentage).

"When he made his big save, the energy on the bench is unbelievable, you know?" Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. "You just don't want to give up, again, chances. And in the second period I think the breakaway (by Lightning forward Alex Killorn), he saved it and everybody [was] like, 'Good job.' And we just [were] all excited … he was a wall. That's what we need from him."  

Video: Las Vegas #AwardWorthy: Holtby shuts out Lightning

 

2. Road warriors

Washington won three road games in a series for the second time this postseason; the first was against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. Each of the series victories, against the Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins and Lightning, ended away from Capital One Arena. Washington is 8-2 on the road in the playoffs and 12-4 in the past two seasons.

 

3. Russian connection

Ovechkin and center Evgeny Kuznetsov continue their torrid playoff pace. Ovechkin scored the first goal in Game 7 against the Lightning, and Kuznetsov had the assist. Ovechkin has 22 playoff points (12 goals, 10 assists), his most in an NHL postseason. Kuznetsov has 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) to set a Washington record for a single postseason; Ovechkin had 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 2009. 

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm5: Kuznetsov scores, sets Caps record

"I was over seeing my son in Russia and I went to visit [Ovechkin] right after his wedding," coach Barry Trotz said. "We talked about a couple of things, redefining himself a little bit, there were a lot of people doubting if he still had what it took. The great players take exception to that."

 

4. Penalty kill takes hold

Through the first four games of the series, Tampa Bay's power play was 6-for-14 (42.9 percent), but Washington's penalty kill, and its discipline, stiffened the rest of the way. The Capitals allowed 16 power-play opportunities in Games 1-4, but four in Games 5-7. 

 

5. Unsung heroes

Forward Andre Burakovsky was struggling to generate offense even before he left Game 2 of the first round against the Blue Jackets with an upper-body injury. He returned for the conference final, had two shots on goal through four games and was a healthy scratch for Game 5, but was back in the lineup for Game 6 and scored twice in Game 7 for his first points of the playoffs. 

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm7: Burakovsky nets second of period

"It's amazing. That's what you need, too," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "I feel like maybe [the Lightning] were pressuring at the most during the second [period] and we got two quick ones there by Andre and that's huge. That's what you need. You need it from everybody and tonight was Andre's time."

***

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