caps go to finals after win over lightning, nhl, playoffs, stanley, cup

By Annie Ross

Alex Ovechkin scored early and Andre Burakovsky added two second-period goals to help the Washington Capitals to a 4-0 win over the host Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Wednesday night.

Braden Holtby stopped 29 shots for his second straight shutout, and the Lightning, who led the NHL in goals during the regular season, failed to score in the last 159 minutes 27 seconds — a stretch of nearly eight periods. The Lightning did outshoot the Capitals for the first time in the series.

Ovechkin, who in his 13-year career had never played for a team that advanced beyond the second round, scored 1 minute 2 seconds into the winner-take-all showdown he had described as probably the “biggest game in my life.” Evgeny Kuznetsov’s assist on the goal extended his points streak to 10 games.

Nicklas Backstrom had an empty-netter to complete the rout.

To earn a spot in the Stanley Cup final, where they will play the Vegas Golden Knights, the Capitals beat the top-seeded Lightning three times on the road, improving to 8-2 away from home this postseason.

It is Washington’s first appearance in the Cup final since 1998.

Two games after being a healthy scratch for Game 5, Burakovsky became the 17th player to score a goal for Washington in the playoffs this year — four shy of the NHL record — when he beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on a breakaway at 8:59 of the second period.

Burakovsky, a winger who played two games in the first round against Columbus before sitting out 10 straight with an upper-body injury, added a breakaway goal to make the score 3-0 heading into the last period.

Tampa Bay, which rebounded from losing the first two games at home to win three straight for a 3-2 series lead, had plenty of chances. A couple of shots clanged off the post, Yanni Gourde was unable to get his stick on a loose puck in front on an empty net and the game gradually slipped away.

It was the 33rd time in league history that a Game 7 was required to determine a Stanley Cup finalist. Home teams are 21-12 in those games.

Tampa Bay also played Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final in 2015, when the Lightning blanked the Rangers, and again two years ago, when Pittsburgh won, 2-1.

Both of those deciding games were on the road. The Lightning had never before lost a Game 7 at home.

Ovechkin and Backstrom made their 11th career Game 7 appearances, one shy of Boston’s Zdeno Chara for the most among active N.H.L. players. In addition to Chara, only five players in N.H.L. history have appeared in at least 12 Game 7s: Patrick Roy and Scott Stevens with 13, and Glenn Anderson, Ken Daneyko and Stephane Yelle with 12.

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