Friday, May 11, 2018

Conference final preview

Welcome to the third-round preview. In round one, our predictions went an impressive seven-for-eight. In round two, uh, we reflected on the success of round one. Now we're down to four teams. Who'll advance to the Stanley Cup Final? We have no idea, but we're willing to pretend that we do.

Eastern Conference: Capitals vs. Lightning

In this corner: The Washington Capitals (49-36-7, 105 points, +18 true goals differential), who knocked off the defending champion Penguins to finally advance to the conference finals for the first time in the Alexander Ovechkin era.

The history books: This isn't quite uncharted territory for the Capitals, who made (and lost in) the 1998 final. But it's their first trip to the conference final in 20 years since, not to mention the first for any big four Washington team in that time span.

Injury report: Nicklas Backstrom missed the last game of the Pittsburgh series with some sort of hand injury, and we don't know when he'll be able to return. Andre Burakovsky is day to day.

The big question: Now what? The Capitals have been waiting to beat the Penguins and break through to the conference final for so long that you wonder what comes next. Maybe with the monkey off their back, they're just happy to be here and can't offer much resistance against an opponent that, on paper, should be the better team. But maybe not. Maybe with the dragon slain and the pressure finally off, they play the sort of playoff hockey they've always been capable of but never seemed able to summon.

One player to watch: Tom Wilson. You may as well keep an eye on him. We know the referees and the Department of Player Safety will be. All the Lightning players will, too, if they're smart. Wilson's a throwback to an earlier era, a player who still hits to hurt. Sometimes, he does it cleanly. Others, he throws those grey area hits that we all have to debate for days at a time. It caught up to him in round two, when he earned a three-game suspension for a high hit. He's eligible to return to start this series, and no doubt he'll claim that he won't change his style. But you have to figure he'll be second-guessing some opportunities to go for the big hit, if only to make sure he doesn't wind up back in the press box. The question is whether that helps or hurts his overall game.

Key number: 30.9% – The Capitals powerplay success rate through two rounds, good for second among all playoff teams. The only team higher: The Bruins, largely on the strength of going 5-for-12 against Tampa last round. Penalty killing has been one of the only weaknesses in the Lightning's game so far this postseason, so the Capitals will need to take advantage of any opportunities they can earn.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

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