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Eastern Conference Final | Lightning vs. Capitals

Conference Final

Lightning vs. Capitals playoff preview

Tampa Bay has much more experience in conference final; Washington hopes to have Backstrom

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals

Lightning: 8-2 (defeated New Jersey Devils 4-1 in first round, Boston Bruins 4-1 in second round)

Capitals: 8-4 (defeated Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 in first round, Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 in second round)

Season series: TBL 2-1-0; WSH 1-1-1

 

[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

The skinny

The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the Eastern Conference Final for the third time in the past four seasons and the fourth time since 2011. The Washington Capitals are in it for the first time in 20 years.

"You don't get these opportunities too often," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.

Trotz, who is fifth in NHL history in games coached (1,524), is in the conference final for the first time in his career. This is his 11th time coaching in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Capitals have three players on their active roster who have played in a conference final. Forward Lars Eller (six games) and defensemen Brooks Orpik (13) and Matt Niskanen (nine) have combined to play in 28 conference final games.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Eller bags Caps' second empty-net goal

The Lightning's active roster has 18 players who have combined to play in 273 conference final games, led by forward Chris Kunitz, who has played 26. Defenseman Anton Stralman has played in 25, and defensemen Victor Hedman and Braydon Coburn each has played in 21.

Eleven players who played for Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the conference final against the Pittsburgh Penguins two years ago are expected to be in the lineup for Game 1 against the Capitals at Amalie Arena on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). That doesn't include Kunitz, who was playing for the Penguins at the time.

"As the captain of the team, it's just fun to have all those guys to lean on, especially at times like this," said Lightning center Steven Stamkos, who has played in 15 conference final games. "Those guys have proven to win in this league. We have a ton of experience on this team. We'll look to keep using it to our advantage."

The Lightning and Capitals have played twice previously in the playoffs. Tampa Bay defeated Washington in six games in the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and swept the Capitals in the 2011 conference semifinals.

 

Game breaker

Capitals: Captain Alex Ovechkin has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 12 games this postseason. He had seven points (three goals, four assists) in six games against the Penguins in the second round, including the assist on Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-clinching overtime goal in Game 6 on Monday. He had at least one point in five of the six games and factored into three of Washington's four game-winning goals (one goal, two assists). Ovechkin has the most playoff goals (54), points (105) and games played (109) in Capitals history. He scored two goals in three games against the Lightning this season and has 85 points (43 goals, 42 assists) in 66 regular-season games against them. He had four points (two goals, two assists) in four games against Tampa Bay in the 2011 playoffs.

Lightning: Stamkos picked it up after a slow start offensively in the second round against the Boston Bruins and had four points (two goals, two assists) in the final three games. He scored the tying goal with 7:04 remaining in the third period of Game 4, which the Lightning won in overtime, and had an assist on J.T. Miller's game-winning power-play goal in Game 5. He has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games this postseason. In his playoff career, Stamkos has 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 59 games, including two goals in the 2011 series against the Capitals. He has 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 38 regular-season games against Washington.

 

X-factor

Capitals: Forward Tom Wilson will be back for Game 1 after serving a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 of the second round. Wilson should return to Washington's top line with Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. He's been effective there and had seven points (two goals, five assists) in nine games before the suspension. He's also an important penalty-killer for the Capitals (2:04 per game this postseason). How he handles the Lightning's speed will be telling for how effective he can be in the series.

Lightning: Coach Jon Cooper called center Brayden Point the best player in the Bruins series. Point's line, with Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, was tasked with shutting down Boston's top line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. After a tough Game 1, when Point was minus-5 and the Lightning lost 6-2, he had six points (three goals, three assists) and was plus-7 in the final four games. More importantly, the Bruins did not score a 5-on-5 goal in the final three games of the series. Point likely will be tasked with playing against Washington's top line.

Video: BOS@TBL, Gm5: Point slides home nifty backhander

 

Goaltending

Capitals: Braden Holtby has been locking it down for the Capitals since relieving Philipp Grubauer in Game 2 of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is 8-3 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. Holtby started one game against the Lightning during the regular season, allowing four goals on 19 shots in a 4-2 home loss Feb. 20. He is 9-3-3 with two shutouts in his career against Tampa Bay. He is 37-33 with a 2.00 GAA, a .931 save percentage and four shutouts in 70 playoff games.

Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy, a Vezina Trophy finalist, is third among the No. 1 goalies who reached the second round with a 2.20 GAA and a .927 save percentage. He was 4-0 with a 1.73 GAA and .936 save percentage in Games 2-5 against the Bruins in the second round. Vasilevskiy is 12-7 with a 2.51 GAA and .923 save percentage in 22 playoff games. He went 2-1-0 with a 2.33 GAA and .930 save percentage in three games against Washington in the regular season.

 

Numbers to know

Capitals: Washington leads the playoffs with 213 blocked shots, an average of 17.75 per game. It was 14th in the regular season with 1,220 blocked shots, an average of 14.87 per game.

Lightning: Tampa Bay was credited with 171 hits against Boston, an average of 34.2 per game. That was up from the 30.2 hits per game the Lightning averaged against the New Jersey Devils (151 total) and way up from their regular-season average of 21.1 hits per game (1,728 total).

 

They said it

"[The Lightning are] a good team. There's a lot of good teams in the League right now. You're not going to have an easy matchup. The next couple days you take to come up with a game plan against them, do your research, and it really is going to come down to us executing the same way we did [against Pittsburgh]." -- Capitals goalie Braden Holtby

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Holtby stones Schultz and Sheary

"We clinched a playoff spot [March 18], which is the earliest we've done this. We've never been in that position before. So we know our group, and you just have to make sure you have your habits, like do we have our habits down? And, we did. Our desperation in March was definitely not what it is now, but we knew our guys had it in them. It's 100 percent buy-in with this group. That's why we're here and what we're doing now." -- Lightning coach Jon Cooper

 

Will win if …

Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom is healthy and his line outplays Stamkos' line in the series. The 30-year-old center missed Game 6 against the Penguins because of an injury to his right hand; he's listed as day to day but will travel to Tampa for the first two games. The Capitals need him against the Lightning, especially because his line will have to produce with Point's line expected to play against Kuznetsov, Ovechkin and Wilson.

Lightning: Their four-line rotation continues to be a weapon and Point's line does its job against Washington's top line. Using four lines against the Bruins enabled the Lightning to set the pace and play fast throughout each game. They didn't have to overtax anybody. Point (19:54) was the only forward who played more than 18 minutes per game in the series. All 12 forwards played at least 11:32 per game. They made the Bruins look like a one-line team.

 

How they look

Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin -- Evgeny Kuznetsov -- Tom Wilson

Chandler Stephenson -- Nicklas Backstrom -- T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly -- Lars Eller -- Jakub Vrana

Devante Smith-Pelly -- Jay Beagle -- Alex Chiasson

Dmitry Orlov -- Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny -- John Carlson

Brooks Orpik -- Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Scratched: Nathan Walker, Jakub Jerabek, Madison Bowey, Pheonix Copley, Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd

Injured: Andre Burakovsky (upper body)

 

Lightning projected lineup

J.T. Miller -- Steven Stamkos -- Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat -- Brayden Point -- Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn -- Anthony Cirelli -- Yanni Gourde

Chris Kunitz -- Cedric Paquette -- Ryan Callahan

Victor Hedman -- Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh -- Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn -- Mikhail Sergachev

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Scratched: Andrej Sustr, Jake Dotchin, Slater Koekkoek, Cory Conacher, Peter Budaj

Injured: Adam Erne (lower body)

 

Status report

Backstrom's status for Game 1 is still to be determined. … Burakovsky is considered week to week and has been skating on his own. It's unclear if it will be possible for him to return in the series. He has missed the past 10 games after he was injured in Game 2 against Columbus. … The Lightning have used 19 skaters in the playoffs. Conacher played two games against the Devils because Callahan was injured. The Capitals have used 23 skaters.

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