How sweet it is! That is the emotion prevailing for the Washington Capitals and their long-suffering fans. Each spring the Caps enter the post season with high hopes and expectations only to suffer letdowns and blown opportunities. But not this time. For the first time in eight playoff series the Capitals exercised their ultimate demon and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins four games to two. Most impressive was that they clinched the series with a 2-1 overtime win at Pittsburgh for poetic justice. Yet the Caps have no time to celebrate. Next is a date in the Eastern Conference Final against the top seed Tampa Bay Lightning.
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Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Eastern Conference Final
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Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida and Capital One Arena, Washington, DC
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Washington has had quite the clutch recovery this playoff season after falling behind the Columbus Blue Jackets two games to none in the opening round. Goaltender Braden Holtby was benched in those two games. He was put back between the pipes to save the season. Washington has won eight out of ten games since his return.
Tampa Bay has been dominant so far in the post season. They mauled the New Jersey Devils four games to one in the first round. Even more impressive was their four games to one win over the Boston Bruins in the second round. Crushing Boston so easily was not expected. And it shows the capability of the Bolts.
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Washington center Nicklas Backstrom is day to day with an upper body issue. Backstrom has three goals and a team best 10 assists so far in post season. In the regular season he had 21 goals and 50 assists with a plus five.
Players to Watch
For the Capitals it of course all begins with left wing Alex Ovechkin. “The Great Eight” is one of the elite players of all time. But he is yet to win a Stanley Cup. In fact, this is his first ever appearance in a Conference Final. Ovechkin led the Caps with 49 goals and 38 assists in the regular season. In post season he has eight goals with seven assists and a plus three.
Tampa Bay center and captain Steven Stamkos brings assets to this series that go far beyond a scoresheet. In the playoffs so far, he has three goals and seven assists with a plus three. In the regular season Stammer has 27 goals with 59 assists and a plus 18. His leadership brings an added element that the Lighting depend on.
So far in post season Tampa Bay netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy has an impressive save percentage of .927. In the regular season he was at .920 with a whopping eight shutouts.
In the regular season Washington goalie Braden Holtby slumped to a .907 save percentage that put him on the bench. But in the playoffs, he has rallied to a strong .926 save percentage. Holtby has been unflappable in the face of playoff pressure so far.
Washington has held a strong advantage over Tampa Bay in this head to head series with 13 wins in the last 18 meetings between these two teams. Just two of the last six meetings have gone over the total.
Capitals vs. Lightning Free Picks
In normal circumstances the Lightning would figure to have the advantage. But Washington’s win over Pittsburgh last round indicates that this is a different Capitals team. Too many times in the past they saw great regular seasons end in playoff despair. This time they have the look of a champion.
Capitals vs. Lightning Pick: Bet the Washington Capitals to win the Eastern Conference Final.
Capitals vs. Lightning Score Prediction: Capitals four games to two