Capitals: 49-26-7, 105 points, 1st in Metropolitan
Lightning: 54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic
Season series: TBL 2-1-0; WSH 1-1-1
Let me start by saying this advantage is slight by the width of a nostril hair. Both teams boast top level talent that is the envy of almost all teams in the NHL. For the Capitals, they have Ovechkin, Backstrom (day to day), Kuznetsov, and Oshie leading the charge, but are countered with Kucherov, Stamkos, Point, and Johnson. Almost all of those players are playing at a high level and racking up cameos on the nightly scoresheets. The difference comes in the form of depth players, and 5 on 5 play. Tampa Bay can roll all 4 lines and beat teams with a lethal cocktail of speed, skill, and smarts. 1st line has elite scorers, second line shuts down the opponent’s top line while racking up points doing so, third line can match up well to almost any other third line in the league, and oh yeah, their 4th line has a bona fide winner in 4-time Stanley cup winner Chris Kunitz. Washington just does not have that depth, and with Backstrom and Burakovsky injured, the scale tips Tampa’s way.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Both teams boast a top end offensive defenseman with Washington’s John Carlson having a career year in goals, assists while leading the NHL in points from a defenseman, while Tampa has NHL leader in goals by a defenseman in Victor Hedman. They each possess a great shutdown defenseman in Niskanen and McDonagh. So they each have point making factories and creativity killers on defense, but when you look at the top 4 overall, which will eat up the most minutes in a game and series, the skill level, experience and overall edge swings just barely south into Tampa’s favor. Trade line acquisition Ryan McDonagh has faced a determined Ovi in playoffs past and is quite familiar with the future HOFer and his tendencies. Though it may not play a huge factor, the 3rd pairings swing heavily toward the Lightning side as Orpik and Djoos don’t match the talent and confidence of Sergachev and Corburn.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
This series matchup features 2 of the best in the game. Washington’s Braden Holtby, last year’s Vezina trophy winner for top goalie, versus Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, this year’s Vezina trophy finalist. As a goalie I am able to see nuances in other goalies’ techniques, and both of these goalies are arguably of the top 5 in technique among goalies. If you are unsure about who’s good at the technical side of goaltending, just remember the goalie who makes almost every save look routine. The highlight reel saves are the more valued saves for the casual fan, but great goaltending boils down to making a high danger shot look more like the chaser. So with both of them seeming to be an even match in playoff numbers, a match in the technical realm, and an equal match in records I gotta call a stalemate…may the guy who screws up less win.
This will all come down to special teams and injuries. The quicker superstar-setter-upper-man, Nicklas Backstrom, can return to the line up the better for Washington. Also, if Washington can draw the lightning into taking penalties, they can heavily exploit Tampa’s very weak penalty kill. That, in my opinion, would be the key to a Capitals series win. Keep in mind that Tampa will likely have a bad first game, as they did last series, before they adjust.
Flawless prediction: Tampa Bay in 6