Eastern Conference final preview
Game 1 7 p.m. Friday in Tampa, Fla. (NBCSN)
The matchup: The Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals are meeting in the playoffs for just the third time. Tampa Bay won the first two series. The Lightning won two of three games during the regular season, with one victory coming in OT. The teams have not played since Feb. 20.
Lightning update At 54-23-5, the Lightning led the NHL in victories during the regular season and finished first in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay won its first two series in five games while scoring 3.50 goals per game and allowing just 2.50. It is in the conference final for the third time in the past four years, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and losing in seven games to Pittsburgh in 2016. The Lightning didn’t allow a goal while skating 5-on-5 for the final 147.2 minutes against Boston in Round 2. Eleven different skaters scored 17 goals for Tampa Bay against the Bruins. The shutdown line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson held Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak to two even-strength goals. Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has stopped 279 of 301 shots this postseason (.927).
The Capitals were 49-26-7 during the regular season and finished first in the Metropolitan Division. They are 8-2 since blowing two-goal leads in back-to-back home losses to Columbus in the first round. This is their first appearance in the conference finals since 1998. Second-line center Nicklas Backstrom missed Washington’s series-clinching Game 6 win against Pittsburgh because of a right hand injury. He is day-to-day, as is linemate Andre Burakovsky (upper-body injury). Forward Tom Wilson returns from a three-game suspension. Alex Ovechkin has eight goals and seven assists in these playoffs, his best output since 2009. Benched at the start of the playoffs, Braden Holtby heads to the conference finals playing some of the finest hockey of his career. He is 8-3 since coach Barry Trotz put him back in the lineup.