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Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz: Capitals advance to Cup Final

Play at Golden Knights in Game 1 Monday

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Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily look at the races for the 2018 NHL postseason. The Stanley Cup Final is set after the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday. The Capitals will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the Cup Final; Game 1 is at T-Mobile Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

 Here's the full Stanley Cup Final schedule.

 

About last night

Washington Capitals 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 0 -- Twenty years after going to their first Cup Final, the Capitals are back after a dominating performance in Game 7 at Amalie Arena. Alex Ovechkin scored 1:02 into the game, Andre Burakovsky scored two goals and Braden Holtby made 29 saves for his second straight shutout. Holtby didn't allow a goal in the final 157:13 he was on the ice in the series. The last goal he allowed came 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5.

 

What we learned

Here are takeaways from Day 43 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

 

Washington has learned how to win in the playoffs

For years the Capitals appeared to have the best team on paper but couldn't get past the second round in the playoffs. But the lessons learned from past postseason failures finally have paid off. Playing with a complete team commitment to defense and a determination to fight through adversity, they are in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in their 43-season history, and the first time since 1998. Down 3-2 in the conference final and facing elimination, they outscored the Lightning 7-0 in Games 6 and 7.

Video: Capitals topple Lightning in seven, head to Cup Final

 

Tampa Bay can't score, can't win

The Lightning didn't score a goal in the final 159:27 of the series. Their last goal came from fourth-line right wing Ryan Callahan 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5. Forward Steven Stamkos didn't score an even-strength goal in the series or get a point in the last three games. Forward Nikita Kucherov had one point in the final four games and didn't score an even-strength goal in the series. It was a stunning turn of events for a team that led the NHL during the regular season with an average of 3.54 goals per game and was shut out once in 97 combined regular-season and playoff games heading into Game 6.

 

Capitals' Ovechkin is a clutch playoff performer

Ovechkin always has produced during the playoffs. After scoring Washington's first goal Wednesday, he has 112 points (58 goals, 54 assists) in 116 career playoff games. But this season he has taken his game to another level and taken the Capitals with him. His personal playoff-high 12 goals lead the Capitals and his career-high 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) are two behind Evgeny Kuznetsov's NHL-high 24. Ovechkin set the tone in Game 7 with his goal 1:02 into the first period, and had a team-high five hits and blocked a shot.

Video: Discussing Ovechkin's Game 7 performance

 

Lightning believe window remains open

Although the loss stung, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, without any prompting, found positives. Hedman said the growth of the young players on the team, mentioning centers Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli, and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, is one of many reasons to believe the window for the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup remains wide open. Stamkos brought up goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, 23, a Vezina Trophy finalist, and said the Lightning always will have a shot with him in net. As much as it hurt to lose Game 7, the Lightning believe they're a championship-caliber team and will be for a long time.

Video: Discussing the Lightning being eliminated in Game 7

 

Here's the story

Lightning struck

Tampa Bay's season ended with a dud in Game 7 and it wasn't hard to see why.

Start him up

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby started the playoffs on the bench. Now he's the starter heading to the Stanley Cup Final.

Road to redemption

The Capitals trek to the Stanley Cup Final wasn't easy but was filled with some magical moments.

A touch too much?

Ovechkin isn't afraid of anything. He showed that when he defied lady luck by picking up the Prince of Wales Trophy after winning Game 7.

 

Facts/figures

This will be the sixth Cup Final featuring two teams looking to win the Stanley Cup for the first time. The last time it happened was 2007 when the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Ottawa Senators.

The Golden Knights and Capitals each earned three series-clinching victories on the road, marking the first time in NHL history two teams reached the Final in that fashion.

Vegas went 2-0-0 against the Capitals during the regular season, winning 3-0 at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 23, and 4-3 at Capital One Arena on Feb. 4.

Washington became the eighth team to overcome a 3-2 deficit to win a conference finals/NHL Semifinals series (since 1974-75) after splitting Games 1-4. The Penguins were the last team to do so, rallying past the Lightning in 2016 en route to winning the Stanley Cup.

The Capitals are 8-2 on the road during the playoffs. They are two from tying the single-season playoff record of 10 road wins, shared by the Los Angeles Kings in 2012, the Calgary Flames in 2004 and the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and 1995.

Ovechkin's goal was his fourth in a Game 7. The only active players with more Game 7 goals are Carolina Hurricanes forward Justin Williams (seven) and Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron (five).

Holtby joined Harry Lumley and Dominik Hasek as the only goaltenders with shutouts in Games 6 and 7 of a series to get his team to the Cup Final.

Burakovsky joined Dale Hunter as the only Capitals players to score two goals in a Game 7. Hunter did it in the 1988 Patrick Division Semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

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