Eastern Conference finals: Game 1
Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Amalie Arena, 8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN
• Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky is expected back in the lineup after missing the past 10 games with an “upper-body” injury, but center Nicklas Backstrom will likely miss a second straight game. (Read more)
• Washington’s Tom Wilson and Tampa Bay’s J.T. Miller are physical complements for their respective teams’ top lines. (Read more)
• The Lightning have five ex-New York Rangers players — and they have a long playoff history with the Capitals. (Read more)
Top story lines
• Injuries: Center Nicklas Backstrom didn’t participate in the Capitals’ morning skate on Friday, and though Coach Barry Trotz said he’s a “game-time decision,” expect Backstrom to miss a second straight playoff game with a right hand injury. Washington won Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins without him by playing low-event, defensive-minded hockey. This time, the Capitals will at least have left wing Andre Burakovsky back in the lineup. Burakovsky has missed the past 10 games with an “upper-body” injury that required surgery, and he practiced on Washington’s third line Friday morning, a significant boost to the team’s forward depth.
“I’m just going to try to play a smart and easy game,” Burakovsky said. “I mean, you don’t get a lot of chances and you don’t get a lot of opportunity and room to do something out there, so you have to manage the game and play a simple game.”
With Backstrom out, center Lars Eller will center the Capitals’ second line with T.J. Oshie and rookie Jakub Vrana. Backstrom had 21 goals and 50 assists in the regular season, and he has three goals and 10 assists through 11 playoff games. He also plays on Washington’s top power play and kills penalties.
“If Nick can’t go or if he can, we’re going to be comfortable with our lineup,” Oshie said.
• Matchups: Expect Tampa Bay’s second line with center Brayden Point and wingers Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson to be tasked with defending Washington’s top trio with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and superstar captain Alex Ovechkin. Point’s line initially struggled with containing Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand — Point finished Game 1 with a minus-five rating — but the group improved as the series went on, one of the reasons the Lightning dispatched the Bruins in five games. Point is also one of Tampa Bay’s top offensive players with 32 goals and 34 assists.
“The one thing they had to get out of their head was that they had to outscore the other line,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said. “The big thing is, don’t let them score. And then whatever happens after that happens.”
• New blood: With the Capitals beating the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, there’ll be a new victor this season. Of the final four teams left standing — Washington, Tampa Bay, Vegas and Winnipeg — only the Lightning have won a Cup.
“They’re all good stories,” Trotz said. “The same old story sometimes can get old. Once in a while a new chapter is written, and it’ll be good. This year there will be a new chapter.”
• Emotional letdown or catapult? After a 20-year drought, the Washington Capitals have finally advanced to the Eastern Conference final, a first for all but three players in the locker room. The team has said its goal remains a Stanley Cup, not just a third round. But will an emotional Game 6 overtime win against Pittsburgh on Monday and getting over the second-round hump propel Washington in Game 1 against Tampa Bay, or will it cause them to lose focus?
“It’s over,” Ovechkin said of the team’s second-round series against Pittsburgh. “Obviously, we understand right now that there are only four teams left. We have a huge opportunity to win another.”
Players to watch
Tom Wilson: Washington’s 24-year-old power forward missed the final three games of the Capitals’ second-round series because he was suspended for an illegal check to the head of Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese. The team struggled to find a replacement for him beside Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, as he excels at using his physicality to create space and keep pucks alive for those two. Wilson has two goals and five assists through nine games, and he might have to err on the side of caution with his checking because he’s considered a “repeat offender” by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
J.T. Miller: Since the blockbuster trade that sent Miller and defenseman Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay, Miller has has recorded 10 goals and eight assists while averaging 18:11 time on ice. He’s scored twice this postseason to go along with five assists, a blue-collar, top-line complement to Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, much like Wilson is for Ovechkin and Kuznetsov.
“You have to have a guy that has hockey sense and skill enough to make plays with these guys and I think Miller definitely has that, and I look across the hallway and Wilson has really evolved his game to be able to make plays for those guys,” Cooper said. “So because that’s the other thing too, the other two guys are looking, they want to get the puck so somebody has to go in, get it for them and then be able to make plays to them and Miller can most definitely do that.”
Immerse yourself in the Capitals’ postseason with The Post’s coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs:
‘We are all about the Rangers South’: Capitals face familiar playoff foes in Tampa
Barry Trotz lacks a contract extension, but has perspective as Capitals pursue Stanley Cup
Capitals aren’t expected to beat the Lightning. That might be just what they need.
Michael Wilbon calls D.C. a ‘minor league sports town’ after Caps celebration. Deep sigh.
Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky progressing from injuries, questionable for Game 1
Toronto is now the saddest sports city. Unless it’s Cincinnati. Or maybe it’s still Washington.
Do the Capitals look like a true Stanley Cup contender? (No.)
Brett Connolly missed a Stanley Cup run with Lightning. Now on Caps, he has his chance.
Capitals’ Tom Wilson tries to adapt his tactics after a suspension he still disputes
The origin story of that amazing Evgeny Kuznetsov overtime goal call
Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom doesn’t practice, considered ‘day-to-day’ with hand injury
Lightning ticket restrictions could block the red for visiting Caps fans
For Washington sports teams and fans, a breakthrough, and maybe a new era
The Capitals could exploit the Lightning’s biggest statistical weakness
There’s a cursed Capitals puck buried beneath the Penguins’ arena. (Its powers are suspect.)
The Capitals finally beat the Penguins. They don’t want to stop there.
Boswell: ‘Last night was a big step . . . for Washington teams and fans.’
Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime goal was eerily similar to Dale Hunter’s 30 years ago
An early look at the Capitals-Lightning Eastern Conference finals clash
Lightning presents Capitals with a foe even more daunting than the Penguins
On one play, Alex Ovechkin and the Caps exorcise decades of D.C. demons
Capitals’ win puts a dagger in the D.C. sports ‘curse’
This Capitals team could be different, because its path to get here was harder
How the Capitals improved their defensive play in time for the postseason
Washington’s expected lineup
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky-Chandler Stephenson-Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos
Braden Holtby (starter)
Tampa Bay’s expected lineup
J.T. Miller-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman-Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh-Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn-Mikahil Sergachev
Andrei Vasilevskiy (starter)