Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
The one game left on the NHL playoff schedule before the Stanley Cup Final should be a quite a doozy.
The Washington Capitals forced Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final by way of a 3-0 victory on home ice over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As the series shifts back to Amalie Arena for the final time, both teams stand a legitimate chance to win and set up a matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights.
By the time the Stanley Cup Final begins Monday, the Golden Knights will have been off for more than a week after eliminating the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the Western Conference Final.
Conference Final Standings
Eastern Conference Final
Tampa Bay and Washington tied 3-3.
Western Conference Final
Vegas defeats Winnipeg 4-1
Washington Trying To Reach Stanley Cup Final For 1st Time Since 1998
Washington’s up-and-down postseason took its latest turn Monday, as it used a thorough performance to fend off elimination.
The Capitals should have won by more than three goals given the amount of pressure they put on the Tampa Bay net, and for a time before the opening tally, there were some thoughts creeping in that Monday wasn’t going to be their night.
Barry Trotz’s team held an advantage in every major stat category, including shots, faceoff percentage, hits and blocks.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Simply put, the Capitals were more prepared for Game 6 than the Lightning, and now they have the momentum in the series entering Game 7.
Washington has overcome a lot just to get to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, as it rallied from a two-game deficit in the first round to beat Columbus and avenged years of postseason heartbreak in the second round versus Pittsburgh.
If the Capitals play with physicality and offensive intensity from the first faceoff once again, they will be playing in their first Stanley Cup Final since 1998, when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in four games.
Tampa Bay Attempting To Bounce Back From Game 6 And Win Game 7 At Home
Tampa Bay is in the same situation it was in following the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final.
The Lightning started out the series flat at home, which allowed the Capitals to hold a 2-0 lead heading into the first game at Capital One Arena.
Jon Cooper’s team finally put it all together in Game 3, and it reeled off three wins in a row to put itself in position to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Final Monday.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
However, things didn’t go as planned for the Lightning, and they have to go back to the drawing board in order to avoid being dominated on home ice in Game 7.
Only six Tampa Bay skaters recorded more than one shot in Game 6, and the 24 attempts on goal felt sporadic in nature.
In order to avoid further humiliation on home ice, the Lightning must get out to a fast start similar to the one they had in Game 5.
If they put Washington goalie Braden Holtby under duress early and the line assigned to stopping Alexander Ovechkin’s line thrives, the Lightning will return to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four years.
Fleury Looking To Lead Vegas To Improbable Championship
Vegas’ astonishing postseason continues to the Stanley Cup final, where it should receive more national attention for making the championship series as an expansion team.
Not only have the Golden Knights won 12 games in the postseason, they’ve done it in dominant fashion.
They swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, conceding just three goals in a series controlled by defense.
San Jose produced the biggest threat to the Golden Knights, as the Sharks pushed the expansion team to six games before falling.
David Becker/Associated Press
After losing Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, Gerard Gallant’s team steamrolled the Jets in five games to earn a valuable week of rest.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who won three championships with Pittsburgh, carries a .947 playoff save percentage and 1.68 goals against average into the Stanley Cup final.
No matter how strong the opposing offense is in the final round of the postseason, Fleury should find a way to silence it.
Offensively, the Golden Knights are led by William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, but they’ve proved throughout the postseason they carry a well-rounded attack.
It’s going to be hard to root against Vegas in the Stanley Cup Final because of its story and the star players performing at a high level, but it will receive a challenge from whichever team emerges from the east.
Tampa Bay over Washington In Game 7
Vegas over Tampa Bay in Stanley Cup Final
Tampa Bay finds a way to rebound Wednesday by way of a strong start and an impressive performance in net from Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Once the Lightning reach the Stanley Cup Final, they’ll face a stiff test from the Golden Knights, who should win at least one game at Amalie Arena behind Fleury.
When the series shifts to T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights take control and find a way to win the championship in either Game 5 or Game 6.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90
Statistics obtained from NHL.com and Hockey Reference