Four Reasons Why the Capitals Will Beat the Lightning

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Posted May 10, 2018

(Caps Outsider)

When the Washington Capitals dispatched the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was pretty easy to forget for a second that the team was only halfway to its ultimate goal.

After some celebrating, the attention was immediately directed towards the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference on Sunday. Tampa made short work of a beaten down Boston Bruins squad in just five games, following up their impressive first round shellacking of the New Jersey Devils over five contests as well.

The Lightning won the Atlantic Division this year, finishing up their season with 113 points which was good for third in the entire National Hockey League. Though the Capitals won their division as well, and are coming off of their biggest series victory since the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, they will likely find themselves as sizable underdogs in this series.

That is not to say that the Capitals are walking into a buzzsaw. After what we’ve seen over two rounds, it is safe to say that many of the assumptions that we came into the playoffs with regarding the Caps can be thrown out the window. They’ve been good at even-strength, have been getting the type of depth scoring that they never have before and Braden Holtby has returned to his all-time great postseason form.

There is a pretty solid argument that the Lightning have the better roster overall. They have also been spectacular at home this postseason so far. However, the Capitals will be an extremely motivated squad heading into this series. Now is not the time to be satisfied or to stop believing, and here’s why.

Holtbeast

Though I’ll firmly stand behind the opinion that Philipp Grubauer earned the chance to start this playoff run between the pipes, nobody will argue that Holtby deserves to be there now. I’m not sure that there’s any way that the Caps would find themselves with this opportunity today if they hadn’t made that switch.

Holtby posted his worst regular season statistics, by far, this season. However, he’s doing some of his best work with his second chance in the postseason. He’s saving 92.6 percent of his shots and is allowing just a hair over two goals per game over ten starts. In games that he has started in these playoffs, the Capitals are 8-2.

Tampa Bay has an excellent goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy as well, so this series will likely come down to which netminder can play better. Vasilevskiy has looked really good after stating late in the season that he was feeling fatigued, so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens if that Capitals can continue their strong 5-on-5 play coupled with a very dangerous power play. Put my money on one of the league’s best statistical postseason goaltenders in history.

Special Teams

The Caps (30.9%) and the Lightning (26.3%) boast the top power play percentages of any of the remaining teams in the playoffs. In other words, putting your team down a man against either of these teams will be like playing with fire.

The difference here comes down to the penalty kill. The Capitals haven’t been spectacular on the kill, operating at a 79.1 percent kill-rate. However, Tampa has been worse, coming in at 74.2 percent.

This is why it’s going to be extremely important that Nicklas Backstrom can suit up in this series. The Caps power play just isn’t the same without him and striking while up a man is going to be one of the deciding factors of this series. If Washington can take advantage of a lackluster Lightning penalty kill, they’ll have a great chance to win this series. If not, then it is going to be even more of an uphill battle.

Road Warriors

It has been pretty well-documented that the Capitals struggle to utilize their home ice advantage year after year. They’re 3-3 on home ice this postseason, but where the difference has really been made is on the road.

Down 2-0 and heading to Columbus in round one, things were looking bleak. Our first sign that this year may actually be different came when the Caps took the following two games from Columbus on the road. After winning game five at home in dramatic fashion, Washington once again played a great road contest in game six to win their fourth straight and with that, the series.

They followed up that impressive display by stealing two-of-three games on Pittsburgh’s home ice, once again including the series-winning game six. The Capitals seem to feed off of the energy in other buildings and it has been really working in their favor. Tampa Bay is 5-1 at home this postseason, so Washington must continue to be road warriors, since the Lightning hold home ice advantage in this series. If they can play at least .500 hockey at the Amalie Arena, it’ll be hard not to like their chances at moving on.

Team of Destiny

Each year, there seems to be one team that goes on a deep playoff run that just fits this bill. The obvious candidate for this year would be the Vegas Golden Knights for obvious reasons, but the Capitals hold their own case.

It would only make sense that they finally squash the narrative that they can’t beat the Penguins during the same year that they finally win their first championship. They are still a long way from that second part happening, but after an offseason of upheaval after pushing all of their chips to the middle over the previous two years, things just seem to be clicking at the right time for Washington for once.

Things obviously go much deeper than “destiny” for a team to win a championship. However, the Capitals have all the momentum in the world after what they’ve gone through over the past decade. We’ll see just how far this team can go, but if they can hit all of these aforementioned reasons that they have a great chance to advance even farther, it’s going to be extremely fun to watch everything take its course.

Three Reasons Why Tampa Bay Could Beat the Caps