Game 7: Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
• Stream here
• Series preview
• Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team
• Braden Holtby dominated when the Capitals needed him most
• Lightning don’t expect Kucherov to be ‘invisible’ in Game 7
• Lightning need to ‘push back’ after missed opportunity in Game 6
• Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options
• Barry Trotz takes his turn at the Capitals’ hot lap ahead of Game 7
• Ovechkin, Capitals prepare for ‘biggest game of life’
• Game 7 history for Ovechkin’s Capitals, Stamkos’ Lightning
• What the Capitals mean to the D.C. community
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is closer than ever to playing for the Stanley Cup, and he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity.
”I’ve never been in this position before,” he said Tuesday, looking ahead to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The winner Wednesday night earns a berth in the Stanley Cup Final opposite the Vegas Golden Knights, who will try for hockey’s biggest prize in their inaugural season.
Ovechkin and the Caps are hoping to shed a label as playoff underachievers, a franchise that dazzles during the regular season only to disappoint at the most important time of the year.
”I’m excited. We’re all excited. … We all want to be in this position and move forward,” said Ovechkin, who is playing in the conference final for the first time during his prolific 13-year career.
”(Wednesday night) is probably biggest game in my life, this team, organization probably. … We still haven’t reached our goal. Tomorrow is going to be a huge step forward.”
Not if the Lightning have their way.
Tampa Bay is playing Game 7 in the conference final for the third time in four years. It beat the New York Rangers on the road to advance to the 2015 Cup Final, but fell short the following year against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
”Experience is always a good thing, but it’s nothing I’m going to sit and lean on,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman, who is 7-1 in Game 7s during his career. ”It’s about doing your job at the highest level you possibly can.”
Washington forced Wednesday’s winner-take-all matchup with a dominating 3-0 victory in Game 6.
In a series where home ice has not been a clear advantage, the Lightning are hoping it provides an edge in Game 7.
Washington won Games 1 and 2 in Tampa, then dropped the next two at home. The Capitals are 7-2 on the road this postseason.
”When you get this deep into a series, everyone knows each other by heart. Now it really comes down to a little bit of will. You have to will yourself for this moment,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
”I do like the fact there will be 19,000 people helping us, to will us to victory. I want the guys to enjoy the game. It will be a phenomenal experience. … You just have to remember, don’t let the game get bigger than it really is. Go out there, execute, leave everything out there and we’ll see what happens.”
This will be Washington’s 11th Game 7 since the start of the 2008 playoffs, most among all NHL teams in that span. None of them, however, have been for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said after Monday night’s win in Washington that there’s no other team he has coached that he would rather lead into a seventh game.
”We just keep taking whatever challenge is thrown at us and build off it. This group doesn’t waver. It has a spirit about it, a strong spirit,” he said.
”This team has done a lot of special things this year, it’s grown, it continues to do that,” Trotz added. ”What an opportunity going into Tampa. … We’ll see if we can earn the right to keep playing.”
And while that undoubtedly would be a major breakthrough for Ovechkin, Trotz reiterated the Capitals all have a lot invested.
”The opportunity is not only for Alex, but for everybody,” he said. ”Everybody that gets a chance to be in a Game 7, which will allow you to go to the finals. It’s exciting, it’s fun.”
More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
There are few teams as “ready” for the stakes of Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN; stream it here) quite like the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Consider this: the Lightning are readying for their third Game 7 in a conference final in four years. While reaching the third round is a first for Alex Ovechkin‘s rendition of the Capitals (not to mention Barry Trotz’s coaching career), Washington is resoundingly seasoned when it comes to these decisive contests.
Actually, that brings up an idea: why don’t we take a chronological look at all the Game 7’s for the Lightning and Capitals during the Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin eras? You may enjoy this jog down history lane – much of which has been chronicled at PHT – while fans of these teams may find revived disdain for the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist, Penguins, and … Bryan Rust, specifically?
Hockey Reference was an excellent resource for this post, and it’s generally a recommended spot to nerd out about NHL history in general.
Oh, and before we get to the fun/trauma, here’s a fascinating find from Japers Rink. If this holds, the Capitals might need another big night from Braden Holtby.
April 22: Flyers 3, Capitals 2 (OT)
Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring with a power-play goal (Alex Ovechkin getting the primary assist, with short-term Cap Sergei Fedorov* getting the secondary assist). Ovechkin also scored the goal that sent the game to overtime, but Joffrey Lupul generated the clincher on the PP for Philly.
* – Yes, that really happened. No, you were not hallucinating. At least in that instance.
April 28: Capitals 2, Rangers 1
This was already an example of the type of playoff game the Capitals team of that era “wasn’t supposed to be able to win.” Semyon Varlamov only needed to make 14 of 15 saves. Backstrom assisted on an Alexander Semin goal, while Sergei Fedorov got the game-winner as basically his last true stand-out moment in the NHL.
May 13: Penguins 6, Capitals 2
Ah, this is where the true torment began.
That Game 7 was the anticlimactic capper to what had been an epic second-round series, including a game where Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby exchanged hat tricks. Marc-Andre Fleury made a crucial save early on an Ovechkin semi-breakaway (after being tormented for much of the round), and the Penguins rattled off the first five goals to win in a laugher and make Ovechkin’s 11th goal of that postseason moot.
April 28: Canadiens 2, Capitals 1
For one summer, Jaroslav Halak looked like the superstar goalie of Montreal’s future, not Carey Price. (Give the Habs credit for making the right, and brave, call there.) The shots on goal count was 42-16 in Washington’s favor, but the Habs pulled off the upset. Ovechkin absorbed the criticism admirably.
April 27: Lightning 1, Penguins 0
Remember that season where the Penguins made the playoffs with Jordan Staal as their top center because Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were injured? That was this year. Despite lacking firepower, the Penguins fired 36 shots on Dwayne Roloson, and he stopped all of them. Sean Bergenheim scored the only goal. Stamkos only generated one shot on goal during 16:13 TOI.
May 27: Bruins 1, Lightning 0
Nathan Horton went from bottle thrower to Game 7 clincher, scoring the only tally of this one. Stamkos received just under 19 minutes of ice time, firing one SOG, and was on the ice for that Horton goal.
Oh yeah, and Stamkos earned big kudos for this.
April 25: Capitals 2, Bruins 1 (OT)
Braden Holtby was in “beast mode” for maybe the first time while Ovechkin’s ice time was scrutinized. This was part of Dale Hunter’s brief run after Bruce Boudreau was fired. There were some successes, yet the hockey wasn’t exactly pretty.
May 12: Rangers 2, Capitals 1
New York was able to gut out a win in which both Henrik Lundqvist and Holtby both played well. Was it mentioned that this wasn’t a pretty run?
May 13: Rangers 5, Capitals 0
This was the stretch where the Rangers – mainly Henrik Lundqvist – was really a nuisance for the Capitals. King Hank made 35 saves for this Game 7 shutout. Following this loss, Backstrom spoke about “learning to win in the playoffs.”
Neither team played a Game 7 in 2014, but they made up for it with four in 2015
April 27: Capitals 2, Islanders 1
Evgeny Kuznetsov doesn’t just have a series-clinching goal against the Penguins to his name. He also generated the game-winner in Game 7 of this series. The slick center has a way to go before he elbows in on Justin Williams‘ clutch credentials, but the Lightning better keep an eye on him either way.
April 29: Lightning 2, Red Wings 0
Ben Bishop pitched a 31-save shutout, helping the Lightning win despite only firing 15 shots on Petr Mrazek (who yielded a Braydon Coburn tally, while the other goal was an empty-netter). Hey, there were worries about Stamkos’ playoff scoring then, too.
May 13: Rangers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)
Ovechkin scored the first goal of Game 7, giving Lundqvist an earful in the process. That was highly entertaining, but the Rangers got the last laugh after Derek Stepan ended the game in overtime. Both Holtby and Lundqvist put out great performances in this one.
May 29: Lightning 2, Rangers 0
Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat scored Tampa Bay’s two goals while Bishop stopped all 22 shots in a very tight Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning would go on to fall in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks, yet this was quite the run for Tampa Bay.
May 26: Penguins 2, Lightning 1
The Bolts hope that tonight mirrors the 2015 Eastern Conference Final, rather than the following year, especially since their 2016 run began with the Lightning winning both of their first two series in five games.
May 10: Penguins 2, Capitals 0
At the time, this seemed like the Capitals’ last great chance, falling to the Penguins for the second season in a row after a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy. Washington pushed this series to Game 7 after falling into a 3-1 hole, but it was not to be.
Bryan Rust scored another big Game 7 against the Penguins, while Marc-Andre Fleury made this series is parting gift for Pittsburgh, making some huge stops against Ovechkin.
So, how will the May 23, 2018 entry end up looking? You won’t need to wait long until you find out.
Also, don’t be surprised if the losing team mutters “At least it wasn’t the Penguins” on the handshake line …
Fair or not, when you author a 100-point season, people expect you to carry those big numbers over to the biggest games.
Nikita Kucherov‘s idol and Game 7 opponent Alex Ovechkin‘s known those headaches all too well, yet after the Capitals slayed the Penguins dragon in round two, much of the pressure is instead on the Lightning’s top guys heading into tonight’s decisive contest.
Earlier during the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, the complaint was that the Bolts’ best players were only really finding offense on the power play. They might settle for that at this point, as both Kucherov (one assist) and Stamkos (one goal) have been limited to a single point in their past three games.
Such struggles prompted some heavy criticisms from Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick, with them going as far as to describe Kucherov as “invisible.”
Whether you judge his play by production, deeper metrics, or sad faces, things haven’t been going so well for Kucherov lately. The Athletic’s Joe Smith reports that Lightning coach Jon Cooper expects a rebound (sub required).
“He’s a big part of our team — a 40-goal scorer, 100-point guy,” Cooper said. “We need him. Sometimes it’s going your way, sometimes it’s not. But I know that he’s a player with a special talent, I’ve seen him rise to the occasion time and time again. I expect nothing different (on Wednesday) from ‘Kuch’.”
Again, Kucherov hasn’t been the only high-end player who isn’t filling the net. Stamkos is struggling, too, just with fewer funny photos. The good news is that Stamkos is saying all of the right things about Game 7 on Wednesday.
“This is one of the best sporting events you can be a part of,” Stamkos said. “Not too many people thought we would be here going down 2-0 in the series … It’s something you embrace, something you dream of.”
That’s a valid point about the Lightning previously being down 2-0.
Tampa Bay’s experienced some peaks and valleys during this series, the likes of which they didn’t really endure through the first two rounds of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sometimes teams hit a bump in the road and don’t really get a chance to recover. The Lightning are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final, and many will forget Stamkos’ and Kucherov’s struggles if they advance.
Bonus points if they score some points along the way.
You can watch Game 7 between the Lightning and Capitals on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET tonight. Here’s the livestream link.