The Eastern Conference Finals are upon us, and the two best teams in Washington and Tampa Bay both advanced.
As the saying goes, the chaljk held in the Eastern Conference, with the two best regular season teams in Tampa Bay and Washington advancing to the Eastern Conference Final.
Tampa Bay easily dispatched New Jersey in the first round, and Boston in the second round, winning each series 4-1.
Washington, on the other hand, advanced through both of their first two series in six games. The Capitals had a goalie controversy, in the first round while the Lightning had a licking controversy in the second (yes, you read that right.)
Washington cleared the mental hurdle of making it past Pittsburgh, while Tampa goes to their third Conference Final in four years.
Tampa holds home-ice advantage, having clinched the most points in the Eastern Conference during the regular season.
So, who wins?
Washington wins if…
They can continue to get contributions from everyone, not just from Ovechkin, Oshie and Kuznetsov.
Defense is going to be a premium this series given how loaded each team is. If Washington’s blue line can shut down the likes of Kucherov, Stamkos and Callahan, that could be the difference.
Braden Holtby also continues to shine. Washington’s been backed by timely offense with stellar goaltending. If that continues, they’ll be a favorite to advance to the Cup Final. Holtby boasts a 2.04 goals against average with a .926 save percentage.
Tampa Bay wins if…
Brayden Point can continue his hot streak and be able to contribute. Point’s had a breakout playoffs, and if he can keep it going, I like to think that Tampa is going to be pretty tough to beat.
Andrei Vasilevskiy also needs to continue his run of good form, while improving at the same time.
After many experts thought Vasilevskiy was fatigued after ending the regular season in a slump, Vasilevskiy snapped back into form, boasting a 2.20 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
These numbers are better than the end of the regular season, but need to improve against a loaded Washington team.
This series is the definition of a toss-up. Although, I give the edge to Tampa Bay due to the fact they have the experience factor and have been in this situation before, although it could go either way. I wouldn’t be shocked to see this series go seven games.
The Eastern Conference Final begins tonight at 7 p.m. Central Time.