Capitals in control of conference final vs Lightning

Washington Capitals center Lars Eller (20) scores a goal on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during the second period of game two of the Eastern Conference Final in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsThe Washington Capitals are making the most of the franchise’s first Eastern Conference Final appearance in 20 years, jumping out to a 2-0 series lead with a pair of road victories against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Just about everything is going right for Washington, which can put the Lightning on the brink of elimination with a win at home in Game 3 on Tuesday.

Before the start of the series, it appeared as though Tampa Bay was the team with superior depth, especially on the offensive end, but it’s the Capitals who generated scoring from their checking lines in Games 1 and 2. Out of the 10 goals Washington scored in those games, seven of them were scored by players who averaged fewer than 17 minutes of average time on ice during the season. Lars Eller has been thriving in an increased role due to the injury to Nicklas Backstrom, scoring in each of the first two conference final contests, while grinders like Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Jay Beagle have all contributed to the offense as well.

Washington captain Alex Ovechkin has a goal and an assist in each of the first two games against the Lightning, who appeared exasperated by the Capitals’ relentless barrage. Tampa Bay has been to three conference finals since 2011 and still has plenty of the same players who helped them get there before, but that experience hasn’t helped against a reinvigorated Washington team looking to shed its reputation as a perennial playoff flop. Finally defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins was a big mental hurdle to clear for Ovechkin and the Capitals, and lifting that weight has allowed Ovechkin into the Conn Smythe conversation for playoff MVP, which he would almost certainly win if Washington went on to win the Stanley Cup.

The Lightning have won three of their four road games in the postseason, and they won more road games (25) than any other Eastern Conference team during the regular season, so a victory at Washington on Tuesday is not out of the question. But Tampa Bay netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy has been outdueled by Braden Holtby thus far, and captain Steven Stamkos is the only player finding consistent results on offense for the Lightning, with goals in Games 1 and 2. If Tuesday’s contest plays out like the first two games, this series could be over fast.