Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
One win separates the Tampa Bay Lightning from a date with the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup final.
The Lightning reeled off three straight wins, two of which came in Washington, D.C., to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference final over the Washington Capitals.
Tampa Bay set up the clinching scenario for Monday’s Game 6 with a 3-2 victory at home in Game 5. If they win their fourth straight contest, the Lightning would become the first team to lose the first two games of a conference final or semifinal at home and win the series since the 1974-75 season, per NHL PR:
NHL Public Relations @PR_NHL
The @TBLightning sit one win shy of becoming the first NHL team to lose Games 1 and 2 at home and rally to win a Conference Finals/Semifinals series (since 1974-75). #NHLStats #StanleyCup https://t.co/4iWzOmRU1J https://t.co/egNKHN6Bwa
Monday’s trip to Capital One Arena presents the Lightning with a challenging task against a desperate Capitals team, but they’ve been one of the most successful teams on the road in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Eastern Conference Final Game 6 Information
Start Time: 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live or NBC Sports App
Game 6 Preview
Tampa Bay gained control of the mental advantage in the series by winning twice at Capital One Arena.
The Lightning followed up wins in Games 3 and 4 with three fast goals to take Game 5 and move one win away from the Stanley Cup final.
Jon Cooper’s team scored 19 seconds into the game, and in the first 33 seconds of the second period, in addition to a late first-period tally to open up a three-goal lead Washington couldn’t overcome.
The goals came from unlikely sources, as Cedric Paquette, Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan scored. Tampa Bay’s three scorers in Game 5 combined for nine goals in the postseason, with Palat scoring six of them.
The 33-year-old Callahan, who had a goal and an assist in Game 5, admitted it wasn’t hard for him to raise his level of play, per the team’s official Twitter account:
As most hockey players will tell you, the game in which a team tries to clinch is the hardest of the series. It may be too cliche of a saying for some, but that’s the mentality the Lightning take into Game 6, as Steven Stamkos noted, per Bryan Burns of the team’s official website.
“That’s the toughest game in the series,” Stamkos said. “This group has experience in that we’ve had two games where we closed out teams in the playoffs. That’s the mentality that we’re going to have going in. At the same time, they’re going to have their best. Their backs are against the wall. This will be the toughest game.”
Not only did Tampa Bay’s fourth line of Callahan, Paquette and Chris Kunitz find success in front of the Washington net, they also thrived defensively against Washington’s top unit.
Although the line starring Alexander Ovechkin struggled at the start of Game 5, it produced enough to create some confidence entering Game 6.
In addition to playing well in the third period of Game 5, the Capitals have recent history on their side, as they are 5-0 in non-Game 7 elimination games at home since the start of the Ovechkin era, per Ted Starkey of Newsday:
Ted Starkey @TedStarkey
In the Ovechkin era, in non-Game 7s facing elimination at home, Caps are 5-0*. The last one they didn’t win, 2003 Game 6 vs. Tampa, began the chain of events that landed them Ovechkin.
The Capitals will try to bank off their experience in the first two rounds, when they overcame deficits to beat Columbus and Pittsburgh, as Matt Niskanen said, per Mike Vogel of the team’s official website.
“A lot of people counted us out when we got down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted, and we just kept playing. So that’s what we’ve got to do again. Bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game, and then we’ll go from there.”
If the Capitals are able to fend off another fast start by Tampa Bay, they should put themselves in position to capitalize off a decent finish to Game 5.
Expect Ovechkin to be the main creator of scoring opportunities, as he has been most of the postseason, as the Capitals look to force Game 7 back in Tampa Bay Wednesday.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from Hockey Reference.