Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Conference Final Breakdown and Predictions

Alright so I have to be honest, I did not see this coming. Maybe I was thinking too much with my heart and not my head, but I had both of the Second Round matchups dead wrong. First of all, I thought the Bruins would’ve actually been able to compete with Tampa, especially after watching the Bruins take Game 1 pretty convincingly. Yes, the refs were bad throughout the series and that didn’t help, but you don’t lose a series in five games just because of the refs. Even though the Bruins found a way to contain Stamkos and Kucherov, the secondary scoring of the Lightning showed up big time. Losing in 5 is tough, but they still did a lot better than I expected at the start of the season so I’m okay with that.

In other news, there will be a new Stanley Cup Champion this year. After years of Crosby and the Pens coming out on the winning side against Ovi and the Caps, the Great 8 finally came out on top. I honestly didn’t think it would happen. In my head the Penguins were a better team, and it seemed like they just had Washington’s number whenever they met in the playoffs. One of the reasons why the Capitals find themselves in the Conference Final for the first time in the Ovechkin era is because of the play of Braden Holtby. After being benched to start the postseason, he’s bounced back with a 9-3 record, 2.04 GAA and .925 Sv%.

Matchup

Tampa Bay Lightning – 113 points (A1) vs. Washington Capitals – 105 points (M1)

Season Series: Tampa Bay 2-1-0; Washington 1-1-1

The Capitals are in unfamiliar territory, while the Lightning are in the Conference Final for the third time in the last four seasons. Tampa Bay was in control of the conference pretty much since October, and the addition of Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller further solidified their position as the best team in the East. Combine that with the Vezina-calibre play that Andrei Vasilevskiy has been producing all season and you’ve found a recipe for success. But the Lightning are getting production from everybody right now, not just their star players. Specifically, the second line pair of Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat have stepped up big time while Stamkos has gone through a bit of a scoring drought in the playoffs. Point was the biggest threat against the Bruins all series long, and the depth of Tampa was the biggest factor in their series win.

For Washington, they’ve been on a roll since making the switch from Grubauer to Holtby. The most impressive thing about their play lately is that they’ve been able to win without Nicklas Backstrom, who’s out with a suspected broken hand. In the meantime, Evgeny Kuznetsov has stepped up to fill his spot on the top line, while Lars Eller has found a bit of a groove playing on the second line. It just seems like everything is working for the Capitals lately, and they’re on the verge of a Stanley Cup Final appearance. While all of the focus has been on the depth of the Lightning, the depth of the Capitals has made the difference so far this series.

Prediction: Capitals in 7

I think it might be #CapsYear. If they can break their normal second round curse, against the team that seems to own them year after year, then I think the Caps just might be able to pull this off. They’ve looked dominant through two games, but the Lightning aren’t dead just yet. Tampa Bay has been close to the Stanley Cup in the past few seasons, they understand just how hard it is to get to this point and I doubt they’ll go down without a fight.

I’m a bit late with this article, so to make up for it I’ll give a little bonus recap of the first two games of this series.

Game 1

Similar to the way they started against the Bruins, the Lightning came out flat in Game 1. Maybe it was rust, but either way they looked awful to start off. After falling behind 4-0, they managed to score twice to make it a two goal game, something that I think all Capitals fans are afraid of after some of the leads they’ve blown in the playoffs, but that was as close as it would get. The team known for their potent offense managed just 21 shots in the game, and Tampa Bay lost their home-ice advantage right away.

Game 2

After getting embarrassed in the first game, Tampa showed up in Game 2… at least at the start. The Lightning were up 2-1 after the first, but a late second period meltdown saw them down 4-2 after 40.

This one came right as the second period was about to end and even though there was still 20 minutes to play, this one goal all but officially ended it. Washington looked dominant through two games, but they know as well as anybody that losing two games at home isn’t the end of a series. They lost their first two home games against Columbus to fall behind 2-0, before rattling off four straight wins.

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