TAMPA, Fla. – Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals overcame a major hurdle by reaching the Eastern Conference final.
Just like that, they’re in a full-on sprint toward the finish.
The Capitals scored in the opening minute of the game and twice in the last 1:02 of the second period Sunday night to pull away to a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning and a 2-0 lead in the East final.
“It’s huge but it’s not over yet,” Ovechkin said. “We played hard and played smart. You can see all four lines doing their job.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller each had a goal and two assists. Ovechkin and Tom Wilson had a goal and an assist apiece for the Caps, who took the first two games of the best-of-seven matchup on the road. Since 1974-75, teams that take a 2-0 lead in the conference final or semifinal have a series record of 39-2 (95.1 percent).
“We didn’t panic. Just stayed to the system and played the right way,” Ovechkin said. “We stayed calm and waited for our opportunities.”
Devante Smith-Pelly and Brett Connolly also scored, helping Washington improve to 7-1 on the road this postseason. It’s their first visit to the conference final during Ovechkin’s 13-season career.
“You’re on the road and it’s us against them, and this group has really bonded,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They’ve got a lot of resiliency, and they’re having fun.”
Game 3 is Tuesday night in Washington.
The Lightning had the best record in the Eastern Conference this season and breezed through the first rounds of the playoffs against New Jersey and Boston.
Little has gone right against the Capitals.
“For a team that’s been used to being able to make some plays, we sure haven’t made them in these two games. It’s very uncharacteristic of us. That’s the difference. They’ve made plays, we haven’t. And it’s cost us,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.
“We’ve just played tentative and a little bit slow. We didn’t get 113 points by playing that way. We didn’t win the first two rounds by playing that way,” Cooper added. “For some reason for two games, that’s the way we’ve played.”
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