Washington Capitalizes on Their Strengths, Advance to Cup Final

Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin touch Prince of Wales Trophy after Eastern Conference Final win against Tampa Bay in Game 7. — by nhl.com
Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin touch Prince of Wales Trophy after Eastern Conference Final win against Tampa Bay in Game 7. — by nhl.com

Wednesday night's Eastern Conference Final may have ended in a shutout, but it was by no means uneventful. Alex Ovechkin set the tone early, firing a bullet past Vasilevskiy only 1:02 into the game. And despite a 4-0 loss, Tampa Bay put up a hell of a fight.

Tensions were high as both teams laid everything out on the ice, the Stanley Cup finals well within reach. The first period was like a ping pong match, back and forth, both teams receiving equal chances on the puck. Tampa was firing what felt like a litany of shots on Braden Holtby, but he was stopping every one. Holtby may have secured a shutout, but it almost seemed as if by pure luck.

Taunting Tampa with juicy rebound after juicy rebound (seven in the first period alone, to be exact), Holtby was playing it fast and loose with the saves. Tampa Bay had so many opportunities to tie up the game, but the Capitals were sacrificing life and limb and neck to block their shots.

Regardless of their efforts, luck just did not seem to be on Tampa's side. It was very reminiscent of their final game against the Boston Bruins last series, only this time the roles were reversed. The Lightning were playing hard, getting feisty, taking shots, but in a frantic, desperate way that proved unproductive.

They had a huge opportunity early in the second period that could have helped turn the tides, but they failed to capitalize. Victor Hedman slid a perfect pass from behind the goal line, across the crease to a waiting Yanni Gourde, who had Holtby way out of position and a wide-open net. All Gourde had to do was tap the puck into the net, but he waffled, blowing arguably the biggest opportunity Tampa had to get back into the game.

Unfortunately for Tampa, all of their efforts went unrewarded. The Capitals ended up with two more goals in the second period, both by Andre Burakovsky and both given up after sloppy turnovers from Tampa Bay, one in their own zone, that lead to breakaways for Burakovsky.

The second period seemed to take the wind out of Tampa's sails and they came into the third pretty lackluster, without so much as a shot halfway through the period. The most notable player the entire game for Tampa was Vasilevskiy who came up with a huge save against a breakaway by Ovechkin late into the period to keep the game at 3-0.

Nevertheless, Nicklas Backstrom potted the empty netter with 3:43 to go in the game, sealing the deal for the Capitals. For the first time in two decades, and the first time in Ovechkin's career, the Washington Capitals advance to the Stanley Cup finals to take on the Vegas Golden Knights in what is sure to be an epic showdown.

Game 1 is set for Monday, May 28 in Las Vegas.