Eastern Conference final matches hungry Caps, savvy Lightning
| 2 weeks ago

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Washington Capitals are in their first conference final in 20 years and the Tampa Bay Lightning are in for the third time in four years.

Will experience be an edge over the motivation of waiting so long to get to this point in the postseason?

"We know what's coming," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the heightened attention and greater distractions that come with a deep playoff run. "It's a whole different feel, because we've been there. That's a good thing."

Tampa Bay has dispatched New Jersey and Boston in five games each, and Washington has had a more difficult path to this point, rallying from an 0-2 deficit to beat Columbus, then again needing six games to eliminate the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

"If you're going to have success against really good teams, Pitt, Tampa, anybody going forward, you've got to be hard, you've got to be detailed, you've got to be compact, you've got to make good decisions, you've got to have an extremely high work ethic and high commitment," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.

Tampa Bay led the NHL in scoring in the regular season and Washington's Alex Ovechkin led the league in goals with 49, adding another eight in the postseason. If anything, the Lightning beat the Bruins without dominant play from their top scorers, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

Where does the advantage stand in goaltending? Washington's Braden Holtby is a former Vezina winner, but he ranked 37th in the NHL in save percentage during the regular season and played a combined 65 games without a shutout. He has played nearly a goal a game better in the playoffs, giving up 2.99 per game during the regular season but just 2.04 in the postseason.

Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy has been sharp, allowing 2.24 goals per game in the playoffs, and tied for the NHL lead in shutouts with eight.

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