Three Reasons Why Tampa Bay Could Beat the Caps

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Posted May 9, 2018

(Caps Outsider)

The Washington Capitals will be skating with the weight of the world lifted off of their shoulders on Friday night when they take the ice for an Eastern Conference Final contest for the first time in two decades.

Fresh off of finally clearing their biggest mental hurdle between them and their first championship, Washington’s most important physical test is about to begin. That will come in the form of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning finished this regular season with 113 points, good for third in the league. They have some of the premier stars of today’s NHL, including Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman. At +60, they also finished at the top of the league in goal differential. Simply put, this team is lethal.

The Capitals have a lot of unfinished business left, and at this point, the sky is the limit for this team. However, sometimes you simply meet your match in one way or another – which is something that Capitals fans know all too well by now.

The Lightning may be that match. There are several reasons why, and a few of those may be out of the player’s hands.

Health

The biggest concern for the Capitals entering the series should be the health of two of their more important pieces.

The most important of these two is center Nicklas Backstrom. He has been locked in as the team’s second line center for a while now, though that doesn’t diminish the fact that he is one of the league’s best pivots. Backstrom’s absence leaves a major void in the lineup in all three zones and on special teams.

Currently, he’s listed as day-to-day with a hand injury. He is traveling with the team to Tampa Bay, which is a good sign and indicates that there’s a chance he’ll play in either game one or two.

Andre Burakovsky is the other missing piece as of now. He left Game 2 of the first round with an upper body injury that required surgery, though he was back on the ice on Wednesday with a no-contact jersey. He is also traveling with the team, and while it seems he may miss some more time, getting him back would provide a major boost to the Capitals’ depth scoring, provided that somebody like Jakub Vrana isn’t removed from the lineup in his place.

On the other side, the Lightning have an almost completely clean bill of health. Forward Adam Erne is the only player on their official injury report. Couple this with the fact that Tampa has only played ten games through two full series so far, and they have a clear advantage in this department.

Loaded on the Blue Line

The Lightning made a splash at the trade deadline, adding defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller via the New York Rangers. Miller is a nice add, but McDonagh put Tampa’s defense over the top. He has been sharing the ice with his former teammate, Anton Stralman, and has looked solid in the process. Behind them is a pairing of Hedman and Dan Girardi, who has looked like an actual living, breathing NHL defender on his new team. The third defensive unit consists of Brayden Coburn and the promising Mikhail Sergachev.

There isn’t really a glaring hole to be found here. This is a really good group that is going to seriously challenge the Capitals’ depth scoring. The Caps didn’t have any major issues going against a much weaker group in Pittsburgh, but the home ice advantage for Tampa and the ability to dictate the matchups they want may stifle Washington.

The Ranger Effect

Okay, this one is more for fun than anything. Five of Tampa’s skaters are former New York Rangers, who besides the Penguins, represented the sharpest thorn in the Capitals side in the playoffs.

McDonagh, Stralman, Girardi, Miller and Ryan Callahan make up that group of former Blueshirts that will take the ice on Friday. If you remember, McDonagh and Girardi were tasked with slowing Alex Ovechkin down in almost every series against New York. Quite a few things have changed since then, but this time the stakes are even greater from Washington.

This problem is a huge exaggeration on my part, but it’s a pretty enjoyable scenario to think about if the Capitals do end up winning this series. Why not slay every possible dragon on the way, right?

This series is probably going to be a lot closer than some people think. Looking at the above issues, health is probably going to be the most important factor that determines how Washington does in this series. If they are at full-strength sooner rather than later, their chances of taking this series will be a lot greater. If not, this year’s sting may turn out to be worse than in years past.

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