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The two division winners in the East will faceoff on Friday night at 8:00 PM ET in Tampa where the Capitals and Lightning will take the first step towards determining who will be the Beast of the East. Let’s break this matchup Eastern Conference Finals matchup down and check out the series odds in order to add a few bucks to our bankroll.
Road Map to the Eastern Finals
The Washington Capitals have landed in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, where they defeated the Buffalo Sabres (imagine that?!) but were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy (most regular season wins) over the last two years but flaming out in the second round of the postseason in both those seasons to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps finally vanquished their nemeses, and two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, in six games to challenge for Eastern Conference supremacy.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have one Stanley Cup on the mantle, which was won back in 2004, but returned in 2015 only to be defeated in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks. This season, the Lightning earned a conference-leading 113 points and thus seeded as the top dog in the East. Tampa Bay had little trouble dispatching the New Jersey Devils in five games in Round 1 and then did the same to the Boston Bruins in the second round. The Lightning offense is tied for second in the playoffs with 3.5 goals per game, trailing only the Capitals, averaging 3.85 per contest. Tampa led the NHL in scoring during the regular season.
Breaking it Down
The Lightning owns a 2-1 series edge over the Capitals this season, with their last meeting taking place on Feb. 20 in which Tampa Bay skated out of the Capital One Arena with a 4-2 victory led by a pair of tallies from Brayden Point. However, it should be noted that Washington had played on the road the night before in a win over Buffalo before taking on the high-flying Lightning. Tampa Bay had two days to prepare for the meeting and snapped a five-game losing streak in games played in DC. Let’s take a look at the relevant postseason stats:
Offense Advantage – Capitals
The Caps have scored a total of 43 goals over their 12 playoff contests for an average of 3.58 per game while the Lightning has registered 35 goals over their 10 postseason games giving them an average of 3.50 per contest. Washington also holds a narrow plus/minus advantage over Tampa Bay with a +11 versus +10 respectively.
Shots per game are virtually deadlocked with Washington averaging 32.8 shots per game compared to Tampa Bay’s 32.2. but the Caps own a substantial advantage on the power play, connecting on nearly 31 percent of those opportunities in comparison to 26.3 percent for the Lightning.
Defense & Goaltending Advantage — Capitals
The Capitals and Lightning have both worked their top three defensemen like mules, with Washington giving John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov an average of nearly 26 minutes per game and earning a combined plus-minus of +6, while Tampa Bay has done the same with its top trio of blueliners as Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman are clocking in well over 23 minutes of ice time and own a combined +8 in the plus/minus category.
That said, the penalty killing of both clubs illustrates another checkmark for the Caps as they have extinguished 79.1 percent of opposition power plays versus Tampa Bay’s 74.2 percent mark. Washington’s Braden Holtby, having taken over the goaltending chores from Philipp Grubauer midway through Game 2, has been stellar with a 2.04 goals against and a .926 save percentage versus Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who brings a 2.26 GAA and a .927 save percentage into this series. Perhaps the biggest edge between the pipes Washington enjoys is that they have a proven commodity in the backup Grubauer, while the Lightning better pray Vasilevskiy stays healthy.
What Are the Odds?
Sportsbook Review is the go-to for all things sports betting and why you should surf on over there every time I need to know what the best online sportsbooks are hanging for odds. Over at SBR, you can also find a rating guide which outlines the very best in the business to those that have landed on the dreaded Black List.
With that in mind, we see that most offshore books are offering Tampa Bay -175 at home in Game 1 on Friday night and has been installed as a -190 favorite in the series.