Cap­i­tals set up Eastern fi­nal with Light­ning

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - CHARLES LECLAIRE

Washington play­ers cel­e­brate af­ter Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal elim­i­nated Pittsburgh. The Cap­i­tals’ next op­po­nent could be more dan­ger­ous,

When the Tampa Bay Light­ning swung a ma­jor deal with the New York Rangers be­fore this year’s dead­line, de­fense­man Ryan McDon­agh was con­sid­ered the key ac­qui­si­tion.

But Light­ning coaches were as happy to land winger J.T. Miller.

Miller proved his value on May 6 when he de­liv­ered the go-ahead goal in the sec­ond pe­riod to spark the Light­ning to a 3-1 win against the Bos­ton Bru­ins to earn a spot in the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal.

The Light­ning, who needed five games to top­ple the Bru­ins in the best-of-seven se­ries, now play the Cap­i­tals. Here’s why the Light­ning can win the

Stanley Cup:

Check marks in key boxes: The Light­ning’s goal-scor­ing abil­ity was tops in the NHL in 2017-18. Goalie An­drei Vasilevskiy is a Vez­ina Tro­phy fi­nal­ist. Nor­ris Tro­phy fi­nal­ist Vic­tor Hed­man leads a skilled group of de­fend­ers. Tampa Bay’s coach­ing is high-cal­iber. This is an ex­pe­ri­enced group.

It’s Steve’s time: Steven Stamkos is only 28, but you al­ready see his name among the best NHL play­ers with­out a Stanley Cup. He’s a dif­fer­ence­maker on the ice and a qual­ity captain. Feels as if he has learned all he needs to know to lead this team to a cham­pi­onship. Wun­derkind goalie: At 23, Vasilevskiy has started 17 play­off games and won 12.

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