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The Capitals beat the Lightning to clinch their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 20 years

The Capitals’ magical spring isn’t over yet.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Capitals are in the Stanley Cup Final. They clinched their spot — for the second time ever and first in 20 years — by beating the Lightning in an Eastern Conference Final Game 7 on Wednesday in Tampa. They’ll visit the Vegas Golden Knights for Game 1 on Monday.

Alex Ovechkin, this generation’s greatest goal-scorer, scored one 62 seconds into the game that stood up as the winner. He’ll play in the Final for the first time.

Andre Burakovsky, a healthy scratch earlier this series, scored his first two points in eight playoff games — both goals on breakaways in the second period.

Braden Holtby, the goalie whom the Caps benched for the start of these playoffs in April after a disappointing regular season, pitched his second shutout in a row. He ended the series with 60 consecutive saves. The Lightning weren’t able to solve him.

The Capitals won the first two games of this series, lost three in a row, then won two in a row to finish off the conference’s top seed. The Cup Final is going to be awesome.


Here was a running diary throughout the game:

Third period

Blog entries denote time remaining in the game.

3:43: WAS 4, TBL 0

Nicklas Backstrom just scored into an empty net for the Capitals. Game over. Washington’s going to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in its history.

8:45: WAS 3, TBL 0

Brooks Orpik, injured in the second period, is back on the ice for the Capitals. They’ve taken it to the Lightning in this period, getting the period’s first five shots on goal before the Lightning got one out of a faceoff. Washington’s going to win this game.

16:37: WAS 3, TBL 0

The news is mostly good for the Capitals, but they have injury issues:

Second intermission: Capitals 3, Lightning 0

The Capitals are 20 minutes from clinching their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1998 (and just their second ever). Two second-period goals from Andre Burakovsky have put this thing away unless something truly wild happens in the last frame.

This has to be exceptionally frustrating for the Lightning, who have had the better of the play but have made too many mistakes and been repeatedly stymied against Washington goalie Braden Holtby. The Lightning have a 22-15 advantage in shots on goal, but Holtby’s been a star, and the Bolts have let up two goals on unnecessary breakaways.

Second period

3:15: WAS 3, TBL 0

Goal, Capitals. It’s Andre Burakovsky again, and it’s on a breakaway again. This time, he beat Andrei Vasilevskiy through the five-hole after going far-side on him last time.

Burakovsky didn’t have a point in seven playoff games entering the night.

The Capitals are going to the Stanley Cup Final barring an extraordinary collapse.

5:39: WAS 2, TBL 0

Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik just went to the locker room after the Lightning’s Cedric Paquette hit him from behind and sent his head plummeting into the glass. Orpik has a long history of concussions, and it’s hard not to be scared for him right now.

The referees didn’t call a penalty. This is the NHL, and this is the playoffs, and NHL referees don’t like to enforce the rulebook during the playoffs. It was clear boarding, however.

Another Capitals injury note:

Braden Holtby’s been perfect. Seconds before the hit on Orpik, he stopped Alex Killorn on a breakaway opportunity that could’ve cut the Tampa Bay deficit to one.

11:01: WAS 2, TBL 0

Goal, Capitals, on a weird play. Andre Burakovsky pickpocketed Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi, turned the puck from his backhand to the forehand, and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to his far side on a partial breakaway.

The puck was bouncing a little bit on Girardi, and the big defenseman couldn’t handle it. The Caps have been getting badly out-skated, and Burakovsky’s shot was just the team’s second of the period. But it counts all the same, and it’s starting to look a little bit like the Capitals’ evening. It’s Burakovsky’s first point in eight playoff games.

13:59: WAS 1, TBL 0

So far: 16 shots on Braden Holtby, 16 saves.

16:40: WAS 1, TBL 0

The Lightning just had their best chance of the game. Victor Hedman went around Braden Holtby and put the puck on a platter for teammate Yanni Gourde, who had an empty net from two feet away. Gourde somehow couldn’t direct the puck into the net.

Eek.

A true fact:

But Holtby’s gotten some help from his post:

18:38: WAS 1, TBL 0

The teams are back to it for the second period, which has started calmly. The Lightning will be in considerable trouble if they’re not the next team to score a goal.

First intermission: 1-0, Capitals

A wild first period ends with the visitors ahead on the strength of an Alex Ovechkin goal 62 seconds into the game. Here was that goal by the Washington captain:

Ther period also included a fight between the Caps’ Tom Wilson and the Bolts’ Braydon Holtby, seconds after they’d served dueling unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for their roles in a scuffle around the Lightning’s net. Blood’s running hot tonight in Amalie Arena.

The Lightning had a 10-9 advantage in shots on goal and slight advantages in possession stats across the board. Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who had his first shutout of the season in a Game 6 win, has been at the top of his game to start this one.

First period

Blog entries denote time remaining.

3:13: WAS 1, TBL 0

Just stare and marvel at how determined Tom Wilson was to fight Braydon Coburn a couple of minutes ago. This is hysterical:

4:51: WAS 1, TBL 0

In a rare move for a playoff game in 2017, the Capitals’ Tom Wilson and the Lightning’s Braydon Coburn just fought. They’d just gotten out of the box after serving matching two-minute minors for unsportsmanlike conduct during a net-mouth scrum, and Wilson made a beeline for Coburn to spark a full-fledged bout of punches.

After Devante Smith-Pelly took a puck to the back of the neck earlier, T.J. Oshie just became the second Capital to come up injured after a shot block. Smith-Pelly’s back on the bench for the Capitals, and Oshie seems to be hanging around. That looked painful, though.

7:01: WAS 1, TBL 0

Alex Ovechkin almost just scored his second goal of the night on a chance from the left post, but Andrei Vasilevskiy denied him. A big scrum ensued, with the Capitals’ Evgeny Kuznetsov losing his jersey and Tom Wilson looking absolutely irate as an official separated him from Tampa Bay defenseman Braydon Coburn. That’s a lot to sort out.

Good news for the Capitals:

8:27: WAS 1, TBL 0

The Lightning’s Anthony Cirelli just whiffed on a golden opportunity right in front of Braden Holtby. The Capitals goalie coughed up a juicy rebound, and Cirelli couldn’t make contact with it. It looked like Washington’s Brooks Orpik got in his way a little bit.

9:36: WAS 1, TBL 0

The Lightning look really passive on offense. A good observation:

13:13: WAS 1, TBL 0

The Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly just took a shot to the back of the neck or head while diving to block a slap shot. A medical staffer quickly ushered him to the locker room after a play that looked really ugly. We’ve reached the first television timeout of the night.

Here’s the game-opening goal Alex Ovechkin scored a few minutes ago, a beautiful one-timer off a nice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov. The other member of Washington’s top line is Tom Wilson, who created the whole sequence by forcing a turnover.

14:25: WAS 1, TBL 0

The Lightning killed off a penalty when they really needed to, though the Capitals got a shot off the post during their man advantage. The Lightning don’t have a shot on goal yet.

18:58: WAS 1, TBL 0

Goal, Capitals, a minute and two seconds into the game. It’s their captain. Alex Ovechkin just ripped a vicious one-timer passed Andrei Vasilevskiy, setting up above the left faceoff circle and firing it past Vasilevskiy on the short side. This is the biggest game of Ovechkin’s career, and he’s already made a critical mark on it.

20:00: WAS 0, TBL 0

Here we go. Hockey’s being played at Amalie Arena.

Pregame

The Capitals’ lines:

And the Lightning’s:


Earlier

The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the NHL playoffs’ Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday. Whoever wins advances to face the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, starting on Monday.

Time, TV schedule, and streaming for Game 7

The puck drops at Tampa’s Amalie Arena shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

You can watch or stream the game via the NBC Sports Network in the United States. In Canada, the CBC and SN1 will carry broadcasts of the action.

Game 7 preview: Can the Capitals break through?

Until this spring, the Capitals hadn’t played in a conference final since 1998. That year also marks the lone Cup Final appearance in franchise history, and it ended in a four-game sweep at the hands of the powerful Red Wings. The Lightning are more familiar with this stage. They’re playing their third Eastern Conference Final Game 7 in four years.

This series has made the weird the ordinary. The Capitals won the first two games in Tampa, then lost two in a row in Washington and Game 5 back in Tampa. They responded by playing a tremendous Game 6 in D.C., winning, 3-0, to force this to-the-victors-go-the-spols moment. A solid case could be made that Wednesday’s game is the biggest in Capitals’ history.

There’s reason for the Capitals to feel good. Goaltender Braden Holtby has run hot and cold in this series (and all year), but he’s coming off his first shutout of the season — playoffs or regular season. The Caps have controlled about 55 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts and scoring chances through six games. They were often burned on the power play in Games 3 and 4, but the Lightning have gone 0-for-3 there in the last two games.

The Lightning have their own reasons for comfort. The simplest is they’re playing at home, and even if that’s meant little in this series, it’s meant a lot all year. The Lightning were 29-12 at home in the regular season, and the Capitals were 21-20 on the road. Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is a Vezina Trophy nominee for a reason. And you can look at Washington’s small sample of penalty-killing success recently as either a great sign for the Caps or completely unsustainable against Tampa’s star-studded power-play unit.

Capitals vs. Lightning Game 7 odds

Tampa Bay is a solid favorite, according to oddsmakers. The Lightning are around -145 on the moneyline, meaning you’d have to risk $145 to win $100 betting on them. They’re favored by 1.5 goals in most spread betting situations, as they’re playing at home.

Game 7 pick: Washington wins on the road

Why? No reason in particular. Both teams have good players, and they should play a close game. If one non-goalie is likeliest to be the game-breaker, though, it’s Alex Ovechkin.