Caps must do this one thing to win Game 7

Chris Russell
May 23, 2018 - 12:37 pm
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For the Capitals to advance to play for the "holy grail" starting Monday night in Las Vegas against the expansion Golden Knights, they must do a lot of things right on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Game 6 wasn't easy by any means, but Game 7 -- with the Lightning feeling a much greater sense of urgency at home, and a do-or-die feeling for both teams -- will come a lot harder.

Washington must continue to be physical as it was in Game 6, out-hitting Jon Cooper’s troops 39-19. They have to kill penalties as they finally did in Game 6 (2-for-2), and connect on the power play, as they also were able to do at Capital One Arena for the first time in the series, when T.J. Oshie blasted a one-timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Caps finally passed the puck well in the attack zone, something that had been missing in large stretches of the three consecutive losses. And they got much better goaltending from Braden Holtby. Barry Trotz's guys were better in the key areas that we outlined on 106.7 The Fan they needed to be better in.

That's the short list of what still has to happen again in Game 7.

To win Game 7 and play for the greatest trophy in sports, the Caps must do one thing different and much better than the Bolts for 60 minutes (or more) Wednesday night.

They must WIN the battle down the MIDDLE of the ice. Over three periods. Period.

To do that, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nick Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle have to control and out-play their counterparts in blue and white, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli and Cedric Paquette.

So far, it’s about a draw through six games, depending on what stats you use and value. Let's go "Inside the Numbers" to break down this important matchup.

Kuznetsov has been mostly a stud with four goals and five assists in the series. He’s a plus-4, but has really, really struggled on face-offs, a key area that must improve. He's won 23 and lost 62 on draws in the series. YIKES.

Backstrom missed the first three games of the series recovering from a hand injury and was clearly rusty. He finally broke through with two assists on Monday but is a minus-1 for the series, and unlike Kuznetsov, he's been very good on face-offs, winning 22 and losing 13.

Eller was terrific early in the series, with two goals and two assists in the two wins in Tampa, while taking draws and helping to kill penalties.

In Washington, Eller’s series turned nightmarish with five minor penalties, four of which led to power plays for Tampa, two that led to goals and one where the game-winning goal was scored :06 after the penalty to Eller expired. Eller had two assists in the three losses, but his undisciplined play crippled the Caps. He did bounce back with a solid defensive performance in Game 6 on the penalty kill and on draws, where he's won 52 and lost 38 in the series.

Jay Beagle has a goal and an assist in the series and is a plus-3 overall. He's 51 – 28 on draws and I thought he was the best Caps forward on the ice in the 2nd period of the Game 5 loss.

For the Lightning, Stamkos has four goals and two assists, but nothing in the last two games. He has four power-play goals and six points with the man-advantage.

Point has three goals and three assists, but is MINUS 4 on the series, which is surprising. He has a power-play goal and four points with the man-advantage.

Cirelli had a key goal in the Game 4 win in Washington, but only one point, for a minus-1 on the series.

Paquette opened the scoring :19 into Tampa's Game 5 blitz for his only marker and point of the series, and he's even in plus/minus, but has led a fourth line of Chris Kunitz and Ryan Callahan which has helped keep the Caps' top line (Alex Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson) relatively in check.

If the Caps get the Backstrom and Eller they got in Game 6, combined with the Kuznetsov they usually get, they should be in good shape to win this battle royal on the path to Lord Stanley.

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