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5 Keys: Capitals at Lightning, Game 1

Backstrom game-time decision for Washington; Tampa Bay hoping to avoid slow start after time off

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

CAPITALS at LIGHTNING

8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

 

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals will play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at Amalie Arena on Friday.

The Lightning are in the conference final for the third time in four seasons and the fourth time since 2011. The Capitals are in the conference final for the first time since 1998.

 

[RELATED: Backstrom game-time decision for Capitals | Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

Tampa Bay beat the New Jersey Devils in the first round and the Boston Bruins in the second round, winning each series in five games. The Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins, both in six games.

Here are 5 keys for Game 1:

 

1. Backstrom's health, Eller's role

Washington center Nicklas Backstrom will be a game-time decision, coach Barry Trotz said.

Backstrom, who has an injured right hand, didn't participate in the morning skate Friday and didn't play in Game 6 against the Penguins on Monday.

If Backstrom can't play, the Capitals again will use Lars Eller as the second-line center, likely between T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana. Eller, who typically is Washington's No. 3 center, played 22:11 and had three shots on goal playing in Backstrom's place in Game 6 against the Penguins.

"I feel very comfortable with our middle [of the ice]," Trotz said.

 

2. Lightning fast start

The Lightning have had four days off since eliminating the Bruins. They had six days off after eliminating the Devils and responded with a 6-2 loss in Game 1 against Boston, largely because they felt they were slow and didn't raise their level of intensity.

Almost immediately after beating the Bruins in Game 5, the Lightning players were talking about how they couldn't let the same thing happen in Game 1 of the conference final.

"It was a good wake-up call for us," Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said of the Game 1 loss to Boston. "We have to play with more of an edge tonight."

Video: Previewing the Capitals vs. Lightning series

 

3. Capitals' need to feel the pressure

The Capitals have fed off mounting pressure for two rounds, falling behind in each of their first two series only to come back to win them in six games. They must feel the same pressure against the Lightning, meaning any celebration or feeling of contentment they had after beating the Penguins must be behind them.

"It's over," Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said. "We have a huge opportunity to win another [series]. We want to do it and we're ready for that."

 

4. Defending Ovechkin

The Lightning likely will go with what worked against the Bruins, matching Brayden Point's line, with wings Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, and defensemen Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh, against the Capitals' top line of Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson.

Tampa Bay's shutdown group held the Bruins' top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak without a 5-on-5 goal in the final four games of the series. Point, Palat and Johnson combined for seven.

"The one thing I think Point, Palat, Johnson, those guys, had to get out of their head was that they had to outscore the other line," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "The big thing is don't let them score, and then whatever happens after that, happens."

 

5. Penalty killing

Each team has a dangerous power play. Washington is second at 30.9 percent and Tampa Bay is fourth at 26.3 percent during the playoffs. The Lightning have scored a power-play goal in five consecutive games, and the Capitals have scored at least one in 10 of their 12 games.

All that means is the penalty killing in this series will come into focus, and that's an area each team has struggled: Washington is eighth at 79.1 percent, Tampa Bay is 10th at 74.2 percent.

"There is one easy way to have success there and that's be disciplined, play between the whistles," Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said.

Video: Capitals' focus moving forward after beating Penguins

 

Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin -- Evgeny Kuznetsov -- Tom Wilson

Jakub Vrana -- Lars Eller -- T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky -- Chandler Stephenson -- Brett Connolly

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

Dmitry Orlov -- Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny -- John Carlson

Brooks Orpik -- Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

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

Injured: Nicklas Backstrom (right hand)

 

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

Burakovsky will be a game-time decision. He's missed the past 10 games with an upper-body injury. He was on a regular line and part of the second power play group during the morning skate Friday.

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