With a dominating performance in Game 6, the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning and forced a Game 7. The winner will get the opportunity to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. The Caps have had ups and downs in the series with the Lightning. From winning the first two games to losing the next three, Washington has had both poor and excellent performances on the ice.
The key to the Caps winning Game 7 will be to harness what worked in Games 1, 2, and 6, and to avoid what didn’t in the others. Going on the road shouldn’t be much of a worry, as the Caps have already won two of the three games they’ve played in Tampa.
It won’t be easy, but the Caps have a blueprint that was already successful against the Lightning.
Hit the Lightning
A key to Washington’s three wins in the series has been physicality. The Caps were the aggressors and were intent on hitting Tampa all over the ice. In Game 2, Washington racked up 38 hits and raised that number to 39 for Game 6. That physicality was especially visible on the forecheck. A strong forecheck sets the tone for a team and really makes things difficult on the opponent.
During Games 1, 2, and 6, the Capitals controlled the game with their forecheck and physical play.
The Lightning looked very uncomfortable on offense in those games and were unable to get anything set up. They had trouble entering the zone and clearly struggled with Washington’s style.
Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson have been wrecking machines throughout the series, particularly in the last game. Wilson racked up six hits during the Game 6 win while Ovechkin added four. In Game 2, Wilson had six and Ovechkin registered five.
Wilson has always been known for his hitting, and while it can be reckless and controversial at times, having a big-bodied forward who can throw his weight around is a great asset in the NHL. Of course, Wilson needs to be smart about it after being dealt a three-game suspension during the Pittsburgh series.
Ovechkin, obviously known for his scoring, affected the outcome of Game 6 without registering a single point. He was a man on a mission and wasn’t going to lie down and let Tampa Bay roll to the next round. He was hitting everything in his way and helped set the tone for the entire game.
Aside from just Wilson and Ovechkin, guys like Brooks Orpik and Devante Smith-Pelly have also been racking up the hits on the Lightning.
Braden Holtby Needs to be “HoltBeast”
Affectionately known as “HoltBeast,” Braden Holtby needs to be exactly that in Game 7. His body of work during his time with the Caps clearly puts him among the top tier of goalies around the league, but he has gone through stretches that are hard to figure out. He’s had some head-scratching performances in his career and can look to be out-of-sorts at time between the pipes.
He went through a tough stretch at the end of the regular season and ended up being benched in favor of Philipp Grubauer. Holtby started the playoffs on the bench before entering during the Columbus series.
Although there have been hiccups during past playoffs, including this year, Hotby has a stellar 2.03 career GAA in the postseason. He’s started 16 games so far this year with a record of 11-6 and a GAA of 2.16.
Holtby is coming off a monster game Monday night with Washington needing a win to avoid elimination. He certainly was “HoltBeast” in Game 6, shutting down the potent Lightning offense and stopping all 24 shots he faced.
If Washington is going to knock off Tampa, Braden Holtby is going to have to be on top of his game Wednesday night.
Limit Lightning’s Power Plays
One thing that has really hurt Washington in the series has been Tampa Bay’s power play. The Lightning have six power-play goals so far and have been deadly on the man-advantage. The Lightning finished the regular season as one of the top units on the man advantage, and that’s continued in the postseason.
The Caps have struggled to find an answer when Tampa Bay goes a man up. From Steven Stamkos, to Nikita Kucherov, to Victor Hedman, to Brayden Point, the Lightning have weapons all over the ice during a power play.
Fortunately for Washington, there’s a way to keep the Lightning’s power-play unit off the ice—stay out of the penalty box. The concept seems simple enough, but in their losses, the Caps have been doomed by penalties.
Washington must play smart in Game 7. As mentioned, physical play will be a big key, but it has to be legal physical play. The Caps cannot afford to get whistled for things like roughing, boarding, tripping, and slashing, giving the Lightning an easier chance at a goal.
A Game 7 in the NHL is always an exciting event. Everyone is on edge, from the coaches, to the players, to the fans. In the end, one team will be celebrating while the other will one headed to the golf course. If Washington wishes to continue its postseason run, it will have to play solid, smart hockey.
Of course, a few lucky bounces wouldn’t hurt either.
Barry is the site expert at Victory Bell Rings, covering Penn State football, hockey and basketball. He’s also written about the NHL for RotoWire, Bleacher Report and FanSided. An avid hockey fan, he’s been a Washington Capitals supporter for most of his life.