If you enjoyed the Tampa Bay Lightning beating the chowdah out of the Bruins, raise your hand.
Thought so. It was certainly fun punking BAAASSTTAANNNN up and down the ice and bringing out their inner Labrador and seeing their local "experts" fail to understand the sport on a basic level. Few things will give me more joy during this sports year than Dan Girardi (!!) scoring that overtime game-winning goal in Game 4, knowing that would be the last time the Bruins would skate in Boston in the 2017-18 NHL season. Game 5 was a mere formality.
But as Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy would say, that round is in the past. The good news is your Tampa Bay Lightning are in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in the past four seasons. But I’ve got a little bad news as well.
Much like Rakim, The Washington Capitals ain’t no joke.
They didn’t just beat the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, they beat them up and smothered them. With Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel fighting injuries, the Penguins weren't the same team that won the Cup in 2016 and 2017, and Washington exposed them.
So yes D.C., your hockey team is pretty damn good. I give you credit for that but... what happened to YOU?!!?
The District used to be a cool place. Sure you had the posh restaurants and high-priced apartment homes, but they blended it with the local deli, the cheap dry cleaners, the rent-controlled property. D.C. certainly didn’t have financially equity (who does?) but the people there seemed to share the same sun and enjoy walking by the same landmarks and museums. In many ways D.C. represented America. Some parts pretty, some parts truly rugged. Nice people, mean people, home-grown people, transients.
Now it’s nothing but wine bars, Soul Cycle, local craft breweries (with mediocre, overpriced brews that would get run out of Tampa in hours), probably some new avocado toast joint... and hey Wayne Rooney is coming to town because nothing represents hipster America more than an aging used-to-be-good soccer star joining the local MLS team to help get money for the new stadium.
You disappoint me, D.C. I bet you’re even warming up to the Washington Professional Football Team name. You could’ve been anything you wanted to be, and you chose to be crappy, hipster Brooklyn with a side of disgustingly power-hungry.
And Ben's Chili Bowl? Yeah, it's trash. It's better than Cincinnati's Skyline, but congrats for beating the fine cuisine of Northern Kentucky. Shouldn't our nation's capital have a better signature food than a brown bucket of boring? Do better, District. Or are too many of you still fooling yourself into thinking you're moving home after "serving your constituents," but can't quite give up Nerd Prom and Tammy Haddad Brunch invites? A pox on both your houses of Congress.
I’m getting depressed even talking about it so let’s get to hockey. You know why Lightning fans are excited about this matchup? Because traditionally the Bolts have owned the Capitals like a lobbyist owns most Caps fans souls.
In 2003 the Capitals won the first two at the Forum (now Amalie Arena, The Home of Champions)... and lost the next four in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals
In 2011 the Capitals and the Bolts met in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Lightning won Game 1
And Game 2
And Game 3
And Game 4
We busted out them broomsticks, and if you're still celebrating that once-in-a-generation win over the Penguins, it might happen again.
The truth is this should be a damn good series, and I'll say the winner of this series will be hoisting the Cup in month. Both teams can score, both have quality goaltending that can get red-hot for stretches, and both can score in waves. To the neutrals, this should be really entertaining hockey.
– Brayden Point is the now and the future of Lightning hockey. Dan Rosen of NHL.com says there might not be a better 200-foot player in the game today. That’s a hell of a compliment for a player that’s barely 22-years-old.
– Nikita Kucherov because he just keeps pwning Capitals goalie Braden Holtby with his trick shot
– Ryan Callahan has been kicking ass and taking names in the playoffs thus far. The line he’s on with Cedric Paquette and Chris Kunitz might not be scoring goals, but they're throwing their bodies around and beating up opposing forwards like a good checking line should. They set the tone against Boston.
– Our leaders! Head coach Jon Cooper, general manager Steve Yzerman (mastermind behind the Yzerplan!) and the owner/governor of the Lightning, Lord Jeffrey Vinik of Harbour Island. Let’s show these men some love for making Tampa a city where talented young men play the game at the highest level with all the support and resources needed. Including asold-outt building every night (over 150 in a row and counting).
– Alex Ovechkin has 607 NHL goals and never saw a shot he didn’t like. We boo Ovechkin every time he touches the puck, but we do it out of respect. He’s not a punk like Brad Marchand, he’s just the best goal scorer of this era. There’s nothing to do but SHUT HIM DOWN! And whether that's with the J.T. Miller-Stamkos-Kucherov Line or the Modified Triplets Line of Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson will depend on who's getting it done.
– T.J. Oshie is one of those guys you love when he’s wearing the USA sweater and killing Team Russia with shootout goals in the Olympics, but ever since he’s joined the Capitals he just kills the Lightning on the power play. Washington has a 30 percent success rate on the PP in the playoffs, so stay out of the box.
– Tom Wilson’s three-game suspension should be up. He’s a very bad boy and a bit of cheap-shot artist. Be careful.
Game 1 is 8 p.m. on Friday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, The Home of Champions
Game 2 is 8 p.m. on Sunday at Amalie Arena, The Home of Atlantic Division Winners, the 2004 Stanley Cup Champions, and two Frozen Four titles too.
Game 3 is 8 p.m. on Tuesday at Capital One Center in Washington D.C., also home of the Washington Wizards and Georgetown Basketball. Georgetown is the only team there with a championship banner.
Game 4 is 8 p.m. on Thursday at Capital One Center, which hasn't ever hosted a Stanley Cup Finals matchup.
Game 5 is 7:15 p.m. on Saturday at Amalie Arena after the Preakness Stakes. This game will likely be necessary.
Game 6 is 8 p.m. on Monday at Capital One Center, and might be necessary to end of the Capitals dream season?
Game 7 is 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Amalie Arena but will be a Lightning rest day as they await Vegas or Nashville…..or Winnipeg, but hopefully Vegas or Nashville because tourism and cheap flights are good for Lightning fans on the road.
As we have noted here before, predictions in a sport as unpredictable as hockey are a fool's errand. There is so much randomness and "puck luck" baked into the sample size of a first-to-four-outcomes that accurately selecting a winner is nearly banal.
But we were dead right last time, so let's do it again: