Alex Ovechkin, Capitals Advance to Stanley Cup Final After Win vs. Lightning

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2018

TAMPA, FL - MAY 23:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly pose with the Prince of Wales Trophy after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 23, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. The Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning with a score of 4 to 0. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Mike Carlson/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals are headed to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final after pulling out a 4-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday.

It marks Washington's second Stanley Cup Final appearance and its first since 1998.

The Capitals came into the game with the momentum after a 3-0 victory in Game 6 on Monday. That victory snapped a three-game losing streak, staving off elimination.

In a winner-take-all game, getting off to a fast start can help calm the nerves. Advantage Capitals in this one.

It took Washington just 62 seconds to find the back of the net through Alexander Ovechkin:

That goes down as one of the quickest goals in Game 7 history, according to NHL Public Relations:

Ovechkin, playing in his 11th career Game 7, added to an impressive total:

Tampa Bay had several chances to even the score throughout the first period, but Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, fresh off his first shutout of the season, was on top of his game early on. He had 10 saves in the opening 20 minutes, several of which left Lightning fans shaking their heads.

Ovechkin thought he had another one later in the first, but Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy found a way to keep it a 1-0 game:

After the early goal, it was a battle of the netminders. Both offenses played with do-or-die mentalities, keeping pressure on the net. Neither goalie let up throughout the rest of the opening period, with Washington taking its one-goal lead into intermission.

It was a game of close calls for Tampa Bay, perhaps none closer than this chance in the second:

Eventually, the Capitals were able to do something the Lightning could not: exploit an opportunity. Andre Burakovsky doubled Washington's lead when he sneaked one past Vasilevskiy midway through the second.

The Lightning responded by going on the attack, but once again, Holtby did just enough to keep the opponent off the board. Even when Tampa Bay caught a break and got behind the defense for a breakaway, Holtby didn't give an inch.

Missed opportunity after missed opportunity proved costly for the Lightning, and Burakovsky struck again on a fast break in the final minutes of the second:

According to NHL Public Relations, Burakovsky became the second player in Washington history to score multiple goals in a Game 7.

It was more of the same in the third, with Holtby (29 saves) shutting down any chance of a comeback. In the end, the Lightning had no choice but to pull Vasilevskiy around the four-minute mark. Nicklas Backstrom quickly iced the game.

The victory kept Washington from avoiding a collapse. The Capitals jumped out to a 2-0 series lead before dropping the next three games, two of which were played on their home ice. The key? Holtby, who went nearly the final eight periods of the series without conceding a goal. The Lightning did not score again after taking a 3-0 lead 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5. That's a 159-minute, 27-second shutout streak.

Holtby ended the series having made 60 consecutive saves, with the Capitals outscoring the Lightning 9-0 during the shutout streak. Reminder: Philipp Grubauer was the team's starting goaltender for the first two games of the playoffs.

Washington improves to 5-11 in Game 7s in franchise history, while Tampa Bay drops to 5-3.

After finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference, this loss means Tampa Bay came up just short once again. The Lightning have made it to the Eastern Conference Final in three of the past four seasons and were eliminated in the third round in seven games this year and in 2016. Despite knocking on the doorstep with great frequency recently, they have not hoisted the Cup since 2004.

Fourteen years after being taken with the No. 1 overall pick, Ovechkin will play in his first Stanley Cup Final. His team's opponent, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, will be doing the same.

Ovechkin has typically been able to get his team to the postseason, but once there, the Capitals had earned a reputation for early exits. They had never made it past the second round in the Ovechkin era. Now, the Washington captain has a chance to cement his NHL legacy.

The puck drops in Las Vegas for Game 1 on Monday at 8 p.m. ET. The full schedule for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final can be viewed on the NHL's official website.

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