May 24, 2018 / 9:18 AM / 3 months ago

Caps blank Lightning, return to finals after 20 years

Andre Burakovsky scored twice, and goalie Braden Holtby produced his second shutout in a row as the Washington Capitals advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.

Holtby made 29 saves, sending the Lightning into the offseason with a scoring drought of more than 159 minutes.

Washington meets the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, with Game 1 on Monday night in Las Vegas.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling and we’re all excited for the next step, so let’s keep it going,” Capitals right winger Tom Wilson said.

The Capitals have reached the finals for the second time, and they are still searching for their first Stanley Cup. They lost in the 1998 finals to the Detroit Red Wings.

Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring Wednesday with an early goal and that set the tone for the Capitals, who won the final two games of the series. They posted victories in three of four games at Tampa in the series.

Nicklas Backstrom added a late empty-net goal.

“I think everybody is happy, but we still have unfinished (business),” said Ovechkin, an 11-time All-Star and three-time winner of the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s most valuable player. “I’m emotional. I think we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”

May 23, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Washington Capitals players and coaches pose with the Prince of Wales Trophy after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 19 shots.

Ovechkin scored just 62 seconds into the game, unleashing a shot from the left side with the puck going high into the net. Evgeny Kuznetsov had the primary assist, giving him 13 assists during the postseason.

Less than a minute later, the Capitals went on a power play but didn’t convert. Through 11 1/2 minutes of play, they had only two shots on goal yet held the lead.

There was no shortage of feisty moments coming off a physical Game 6. Washington’s Tom Wilson and Tampa Bay’s Braydon Coburn went at it a couple of times, including picking up fighting majors as they came out of the penalty box late in the first period.

Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman had a shot early in the second period bounce off a Washington skate and hit the post.

Burakovsky’s first goal of the postseason gave the Capitals a 2-0 edge with 11:01 to play in the second period. He was unchecked after collecting the puck and taking a couple of strides before zipping the puck past Vasilevskiy for the unassisted tally.

In between Burakovsky’s goals, Holtby stopped Alex Killorn’s mini-breakaway to maintain the two-goal edge. Burakovsky then converted off an assist from John Carlson at 16:31 of the second period.

“It’s going to take a few days to digest this,” Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “It’s tough to sit here right now and think of positive things. ... It was a great, great season but it doesn’t feel that way when you’ve been here before and can’t find a way to win.”

One concern for the Capitals was the condition of defenseman Brooks Orpik, who was helped off the ice in the second period after a hard hit into the end boards from Tampa Bay center Cedric Paquette. Orpik missed the rest of the second period and the start of the third period but eventually returned to action.

—Field Level Media

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