The Eastern Conference Finals between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning begins on Friday, with the Lightning favored. The Capitals are coming off a very emotional series win against Pittsburgh, while the Lightning got past the Bruins. Tampa Bay has the home ice advantage in this series and they are listed as almost a 2-1 favorite to defeat Washington in this best-of-seven game series. Let’s look at the series and Stanley Cup Playoff picks.
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Washington Capitals +160
Tampa Bay Lightning -185
Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Capitals finally made the Eastern Conference Finals with Alexander Ovechkin, as the Capitals beat Pittsburgh in the previous series. Whether or not the Capitals can avoid a massive letdown to win this series against Tampa is the question. The Lightning have more experience, a better defense and a goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy who is a Vezina Trophy candidate.
The Lightning finished with 113 points this season, while the Capitals finished with 105 points. Tampa won the regular season series, taking two of the three meetings. Tampa won 4-3 at home in overtime and they also won 4-2 in Washington. The lone Washington win was at home by a score of 3-1. The Capitals are coached by Barry Trotz who has been a perennial loser in the playoffs, while the Lightning are coached by John Cooper who has led the team to the East Final in three of the last four years.
Washington relies heavily on Alexander Ovechkin to score, as they don’t have a lot of secondary scoring. That is not the case for Tampa, as they have four lines who can score. Tampa’s second line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point has the same amount of goals as the top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Miller.
Kucherov vs. Niskanen
If Washington is to have any chance of winning this series they have to contain Kucherov. That job will be up to Matt Niskanen. Kucherov leads Tampa with 12 points and he has three game-winning goals. If Kucherov can’t be contained then this could be a very short series because Tampa has far too many other edges.
Ovechkin vs. McDonagh
On the other side, it is Ovechkin going against Ryan McDonagh. The Capitals have to have Ovechkin score because they simply don’t have many other options. Ovechkin is second in the NHL Playoffs in shots on goal with 50 and he is tied for fifth with five even-strength goals. McDonagh is teamed up with Anton Stralman and if they contain Ovechkin then this series is over.
Tampa has won two of the three meetings this season, but Washington has taken 7 of the last 10 overall in the series. The teams have split their last ten meetings in Tampa, with the last two going over the total.
Free NHL Picks
The question that has to be answered is what is the mindset of the Capitals? Are they simply satisfied by finally beating their nemesis, the Penguins, or do they want more? We won’t really know the answer to that until this series gets underway. What we do know is that Tampa was the better team during the regular season and that they have a more balanced attack than Washington. The Lightning also have home ice advantage in this series. Washington took advantage of the weak Pittsburgh defense in the previous round. It may not be as easy against Tampa Bay. If the Capitals are to have any chance in this series they will have to find a way to score a lot of goals, because it is hard to see how they can contain the Lightning. The price is a little high, but I like Tampa to win this series.
NHL Odds: Lightning to Win the Series
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