By Mike Laybourne (Originally published at The4thLinePodcast.com)
With the Tampa Bay Lightning’s game five win over the Boston Bruins, the Bolts stamped their ticket to the Eastern Conference final, where they will meet the Washington Capitals, avoiding a repeat of the 2015/16 Conference finals. The Bolts were knocked out of that tilt by Pittsburgh, so the team will definitely aiming to do better against Ovi & Friends.
How did we get here?
The Tampa Bay/Boston match-up in the second round was a bizarre affair, with the news being unfairly dominated by Brad Marchand‘s unsporting actions. Despite a 6-2 thumping in the opening game of the series, the Lightning were able pick apart their Atlantic division rivals and took games two through five. After a dominant regular season, Boston were unable to bring anything new to the table and found themselves frustrated and unable to capitalize on opportunities.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were heavily favoured to eliminate Carl’s former squeeze, Washington in the second round. The three-peat (man, I hate that word) wasn’t to be. The Caps have only made the Conference final twice before, in 1989-90 they were swept by the Bruins, and in 1997-98 defeated the Buffalo Sabres before losing the Stanley Cup final to the Detroit Red Wings. Heh.
So what can we expect in the Conference Final?
A damned good scrap is what we can expect.
10/09/2017: TBL 4 – 3 WSH (OT)
11/24/2017: WSH 3 – 1 TBL
02/20/2018: TBL 4 – 2 WSH
In the regular season the teams met three times, and the both teams won a game in regulation, while the Bolts took an overtime victory to win their series 2-1. Let’s see how the two teams have performed in the playoffs so far:
|Tampa Bay Lightning||3.50||2.50||26.3||74.2||32.2||30.4|
Both teams are extremely close in most metrics, although the Lightning have played two games less. Whether or not that’ll be a factor that will come into play is yet to become clear.
The most interesting match-up on the ice is definitely between the teams’ superstar forwards. Alex Ovechkin, making his first appearance at the stage of the competition, has the most points in the East (of players still in the tourney). Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov won the first round of #HiSticking and leads the Bolts in points. Both Ovi and Kuch should be your #HiSticking picks throughout the series.
Eeesh… another match-up that can barely be prized apart.
It’s hard to predict a winner based on the stats so far, but if we consider the intangibles and go with gut-feeling; if the Tampa Bay Lightning can frustrate and pick apart the Washington Capitals, like they did with the later games against Boston, then Jon Cooper’s team have a solid chance at going to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Caps are the underdogs in this series and have a lot of work ahead of them. I think the Bolts will take the series in six games. Which team do you think will win the series and advance to the final? Comment below or join in the conversation on Twitter!