The Eastern Conference comes down to one game.
In one of the best series thus far in the 2018 NHL playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals will battle in Game 7 on Wednesday night to decide the conference finals.
On one hand, a team that has dominated all season can fulfill expectations and play for the Stanley Cup. On the other, this generation’s greatest scorer in Alex Ovechkin can finally reach hockey’s grandest stage in his 13th season.
Game 7 has all of the makings of an epic contest, and you can catch during primetime.
NHL Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 Schedule
Matchup: Capitals at Lightning
When: Wednesday, May 23 at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
Game 7 Preview
The Capitals are enjoying a magical run after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round for just the second time in their last 10 matchups. The vast majority of this team is also in uncharted territory, with only a handful of Washington players having made it this far in the playoffs.
Can that inexperience rear its head on Wednesday? For starters, the Capitals are notoriously bad in elimination games, while their opponent seems to relish them, per ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
This is the 4th straight year that the NHL Eastern Conference Finals will go the distance. The Lightning are 5-2 in Game 7s, the best such record in NHL history (min. 5 games). The Capitals are 4-11, the worst record in NHL history (min. 10 games). https://t.co/qp8soxzKBr
Despite going against a Lightning team that has played in three of the last four conference finals, the Capitals have pretty much dominated this entire series.
As a whole, Washington is vastly outshooting Tampa Bay by a 209-145 margin, and the Lightning have only reached 10 shots in six periods in this series. This is a team that averaged 3.7 goals per game in this first two rounds and led the NHL with 3.54 goals per game in the regular season, yet it is being cooled down offensively.
Unlike the Boston Bruins, the Capitals have been able to use their size and physical play to neutralize the Lightning's team speed, and it is seemingly wearing them down. One player in particular has stepped up though to keep their season alive, and it is Andrei Vasilevskiy.
After being pulled in Game 1 before being tattooed for six goals in Game 2, Vasilevskiy has been a star in the net. He has allowed just eight goals over the past four games on 139 shots, facing relentless pressure while coming up with gigantic saves.
The young Russian needs to stand tall once more in Game 7, and the Lightning must capitalize on the power play, the only area the offense has excelled in this series. Tampa Bay is six-for-17 on the man advantage, accounting for more than half of its goals in this series. If the Lightning are going to survive, they will need a power play goal or two.
This is especially important considering how great Braden Holtby is in high-pressure situations. He is coming off of a 24-save shutout in Game 6 to go along with the sparkling career numbers he entered the game with, per SportsNet Stats:
He has been a little off this series with a .903 save percentage, but he has given plenty of reason in the past to believe he will show up big in Game 7.
This postseason has bucked the trend of playoffs past, as these Capitals have continued to come through when it matters most. They won four out of five to comeback and stun the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1. They finally closed out the Penguins in Game 6, doing so without Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin has been a monster on every shift and is having the best playoffs of his career with 21 points in 18 games.
For once, everything seems to be breaking the Capitals' way over the past nearly six weeks. They have clearly been the superior team in this series, and that should prevail in Game 7.
Statistics are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.