So what side should you back? And where does the value lie? Visit SportsLine to get NHL odds and picks for every Stanley Cup Playoff game, all from the advanced computer model on a red-hot 21-8 NHL run.  

The Eastern Conference finals got underway on Friday night in Tampa with the Capitals taking on the Lightning. Washington showed they weren’t just happy to be there — for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era — by getting off to an impressive start and taking a road win in Game 1. 

The Washington Capitals done-did it. They shook off the Penguins bugaboo and finally advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, becoming the first team from Washington D.C. to make it to a conference final since … the Washington Capitals in 1998. However, before we all start declaring this  the Caps year, they have another major obstacle incoming as they try to win the city’s first championship since 1992, when the Redskins won the Super Bowl.

That obstacle comes in the form of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have needed just 10 games to reach the conference finals. They discarded the Bruins and Devils in five games, and they’ve lived up to every bit of their first-place finish in the East so far. Led by some of the best goal-scorers in hockey, the Lightning are looking for their second Stanley Cup appearance in four years.

How to watch

TV: NBC, NBCS
Stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Follow: CBS Sports App

(All times ET)

  • Game 1 (in Tampa): Capitals 4, Lightning 2
  • Game 2 (in Tampa): Sunday, May 13, 8 p.m. ET (NBCS)
  • Game 3 (in Washington): Tuesday, May 15, 8 p.m. ET (NBCS)
  • Game 4 (in Washington): Thursday, May 17, 8 p.m. ET (NBCS)
  • Game 5* (in Tampa): Saturday, May 19, 7:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Game 6* (in Washington): Monday, May 21, 8 p.m. ET (NBCS)
  • Game 7* (in Tampa): Wednesday, May 23, 8 p.m. ET (NBCS)

*–If necessary

NHL Playoffs odds

Here’s a look at each team’s projected odds to advance via SportsLine, not to mention their odds to win not only their conference, but also the Stanley Cup.    

Matchup breakdown

Offense

The Lightning are, to be blunt, the best scoring team in the NHL. They have three players that have double figure points so far, with (of course) Nikita Kucherov leading the way so far at 12. Steven Stamkos has been an efficient facilitator for the Lightning, putting up seven assists, and Ondrej Palat has more than a third of his 11 regular season goals with four in this postseason. The Lightning aren’t leading many raw categories, but they haven’t had time to build up those stats. The Capitals, meanwhile, have arguably the best goal creator in the NHL in Alex Ovechkin, who has eight goals to lead the Caps in these playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov has seven goals of his own, while T.J. Oshie has put up five. There’s a lot of firepower, but the Capitals are more top-heavy in the scoring department.

EDGE: Lightning

Defense

For the Lightning, Victor Hedman paired with Dan Girardi as one pair and Ryan McDonagh alongside Anton Stralman as another has been a remarkably effective recipe. After allowing six goals to the Bruins in Game 1, the Lightning gave up just seven goals over the next four games. The Lightning have tremendous depth defensively, though they don’t produce offense from the blue line (although when you have the wingers of the Lightning you don’t have to). The Capitals, meanwhile, have found success pairing Michal Kempny with John Carlson. The latter has been a top-flight defenseman in the NHL. Dmitri Orlov and Matt Niskanan will likely be the second pair. Carlson gives the Caps some impressive offensive production, but every player on every pair will have to be at their best to compete with Tampa Bay’s prolific scoring attack.

EDGE: Lightning

Goaltending

One of my biggest concerns about the Capitals heading into the postseason was this idea of a “goalie by committee” between Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. That’s no longer an issue. After the Capitals lost two games in overtime to the Blue Jackets, Holtby has taken over and gone 8-2 between the pipes, posting a .927 save percentage. Where Holtby has been excellent, however, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been phenomenal as well, posting a nearly identical statline with an 8-2 record and a .927 save percentage. He’s been helped by strong defense, but overall, Vasilevskiy has earned a ton of credit for his postseason performance.

EDGE: Draw

Special teams

The Capitals have been excellent on the power play, and they lead active teams in scoring efficiency. The Lightning are second among remaining teams, but they don’t garner quite as many opportunities. Stamkos, Kucherov, J.T. Miller, Alex Killorn and Hedman are not the five players you want to stare down. Their kill, however, is the worst among active teams. With the Capitals sporting Ovechkin, Oshie, Kuznetsov, Carlson and Lars Eller on the first penalty unit, it’s not a squad you want to be staring down if you’re struggling.

EDGE: Capitals

Predictions

Skiver: The Capitals are a phenomenal story, and I truly hate to pick against them, but Tampa was my pick before the postseason out of the East and they’ve done nothing to sway that opinion. They’ve played 10 total games, their goal-scoring is out of control, and Vasilevskiy has been excellent. Any Caps edge is a marginal one, but the goal-scoring depth across all lines on the Lightning is just too much. Lightning in 6

Benjamin: It made all the sense in the world to stick with history and take the defending champion Penguins over the Capitals in Round Two. But Washington is finally playing like the team it’s long been said to be, and Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby are equally as hot. Tampa has enough scorers to be the favorite, but if Holtby steals at least one game and the Caps’ special teams keep it up, there’s no reason D.C. shouldn’t be represented in the Final.  Capitals in 7

Blackburn: Part of me wants to think that the Capitals have some sort of magic on their side now that they’ve finally beaten the Penguins and advanced to the third round, but part of me also recognizes they’re running into a juggernaut in Tampa Bay. The Lightning just made quick work of arguably the second-best team in the conference and are deeper and better on D than Washington, which is ultimately what I think makes the difference. I’ve been impressed with the Caps’ resilience to this point, but if they’re to win they’ll need supreme performances from the power play and Braden Holtby. Lightning in 6.


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