Capitals-Lightning: Can Tampa Bay Claw Its Way Back Into This Series?

Capitals-Lightning: Can Tampa Bay Claw Its Way Back Into This Series? article feature image

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Highlights

  • The Lightning are in heaps of trouble after the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against Washington.
  • The Caps have looked a completely different team since the playoffs started and are a serious threat to send the Bolts to the golf course.
  • Tampa still is the better team on paper, but will that enough to come through in a must-win game in D.C. on Tuesday?

What on earth have you done with the Washington Capitals? The Caps were completely overlooked — and honestly scoffed at — by hockey experts (real ones, not Mike Milbury) heading into the playoffs because of their poor underlying numbers. You can’t say the Capitals were lucky to have been so successful this regular season because they have oodles of talent, but they were a team that got by thanks to their wonderful offensive players.

The postseason has been a completely different story, however, as the Caps have seen a big uptick in their possession and expected goals numbers in their 14 playoff games. It’s also worth noting they’ve turned their ship around against three really good teams in Columbus, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.


Washington’s 2-0 lead over Tampa Bay isn’t a mirage. It isn’t a fluke. The Caps went into Amalie Arena and blew the doors off the Bolts.

Through two games, the Caps have controlled play and tilted the ice in a big way. In Game 1, Washington generated 3.94 expected goals (xG) and allowed 1.91 at all situations. At 5v5 they produced 2.74 xG and Tampa created 1.23. Washington also controlled possession with a 54.8 Corsi For % (adjusted for score + venue).

Game 2 followed a similar path. Washington won the xG battle 3.07 to 2.91 at all strengths and 2.59 to 1.33 at 5v5. They also dominated the shot share with a 60.7% Corsi For% at 5v5 (adjusted).

Washington is averaging 29.2 scoring chances for per 60 minutes (SCF/60) at 5v5 while Tampa Bay is averaging 15.8. To put that into context, the Lightning averaged 30.7 SCF/60 during the regular season. Oh yeah, they’ve done all of this without one of their best players — Nicklas Backstrom.

Is this type of success sustainable for the rest of the series? Most likely not, but Washington succeeded all season without owning the puck. Even if Tampa storms back and dictates play from whistle-to-whistle in Game 3, the Caps are the type of team that can steal a game from under your nose. — Michael Leboff

Lost In The Blue Paint

Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy has looked lost in net. He’s allowed 10 goals in just five periods of play — an average of a goal every 10 minutes. While the defense in front of him has looked less than stellar, he has to figure it out — because there’s no way Tampa should play backup Louis Domingue — or we could see brooms in the nation’s capital.

Including the postseason, Vasilevskiy is now 2-6 in 8 career starts against the Caps with a horrendous .887 save percentage and a 3.92 GAA. He has allowed at least four goals in five of those eight meetings.

If you are looking for any kind of hope, the Tampa netminder did play well in both road games in Washington this season. In both starts at Capital One Arena, he allowed only two goals on 37 shots.

While Tampa has major question marks in net, Washington does not. Braden Holtby has been outstanding in net since taking over for Philipp Grubauer in Game 2 of the Caps’ first-round series against the Jackets. Holtby owns a 10-3 record in these playoffs and sports a spectacular 2.04 GAA.

Holtby also ranks 12th all-time (one spot ahead of Dominik Hašek) with a 2.00 GAA — which leads all active goalies. — Stuckey

Prop Watch

In the props market, have things gone too far with Stamkos? The current line for shots on goal is Over/Under 2.5 shots in Game 3 — the same as Lars Eller whose year-average is only 2.0 shots per game — and Stamkos has averaged 2.4 and 2.69 shots per game over the past month and year. In a game the Lightning clearly need, I would be shocked if Stamkos didn’t get at least three on net, so I’m more than willing to pay the juice at -150.

Did You Know? 

Since 2006, teams that have lost two or more playoff games in a row have gone 170-147 (54%) straight-up in their next game, and in the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals the record improves to 38-18 (68%) straight-up. A $100 bettor would be up $1,909 betting teams such as the Lightning to bounce back. — John Ewing

The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the playoffs as the highest-scoring team in the NHL. Since 2005, teams who average 3.5 goals per game or more have had playoff success, winning more than 60% of their games, netting bettors 13.2 units. After those teams lose a playoff game, they are 36-22 trying to rebound off a loss, including 20-12 on the road for +8.6 units.

The Lightning have dropped two straight to open the series against the Capitals. Under coach Jon Cooper, the Bolts are 50-26 on the moneyline coming off a two-game losing streak, profiting bettors 15.4 units (regular season and playoffs). Since 2013-14, Cooper’s first full season in Tampa, the Lightning are the second-most profitable team in the NHL coming off a two-plus-game losing streak. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

According to the odds on the Action App, the Lightning closed as -190 favorites in both Game 1 and Game 2. Those odds suggest Tampa had ~ 65.5% chance of winning each of those contests. The current odds for Game 3 have Tampa listed at +100 (50%) with Washington as a -120 (54.6%) favorite.

Where’s the Value?

The first thing to do with this game is to separate yourself from the “Lightning can’t fall into an 0-3 hole” narrative. Yes, the Bolts would be cooked if they lose Game 3, but you shouldn’t bet Tampa solely based on the fact that it’s a must-win game. However, the Lightning are the better team, and at +105 or above they are worth a wager. — Michael Leboff