Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM
Conference Finals Cheat Sheet
Conference Final Predictions
Washington vs. Tampa Bay
How they got here: The Capitals are appearing in their first conference finals since 1998 after ending their two-year hex against the Penguins. Pittsburgh knocked out Washington in the conference semifinals in 2016 and 2017 as the Penguins eventually won the Stanley Cup. This time around, the Capitals jumped the hurdle known as Pittsburgh by eliminating the Pens in six games, capped off by a 2-1 road overtime victory in the series clincher.
Washington is coming off its third consecutive Metropolitan division title, but didn’t capture the President’s Trophy for the first time since 2015. Alex Ovechkin led the NHL in goals for the seventh time in his career as he netted 49 goals this season, while Evgeny Kuznetsov handed out 56 assists and finished with 83 points.
The Lightning are participating in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four seasons after eliminating the Devils and Bruins. Tampa Bay made quick work of New Jersey in the first round in five games, but were thumped in Game 1 of the semifinals against Boston. The Bolts rebounded with four consecutive wins over their division rivals to advance in five games, while limiting the Bruins to seven goals in the last four games after allowing six goals in the Game 1 loss.
Tampa Bay clinched its first division title since 2004, when the Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup in a seven-game series victory over the Flames. The Bolts reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015 and 2016, as Tampa Bay ousted the Rangers three seasons ago, but fell short to the Penguins two seasons ago.
Steven Stamkos racked up his highest point total since 2012 as the center dished out a career-best 59 assists and totaled 86 points. Right wing Nikita Kucherov reached the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career, while center Brayden Point posted 32 goals in his second season with Tampa Bay.
Head-to-Head Matchups: Prior to this season, the Capitals owned a 7-0-1 record against the Lightning dating back to December 2014. However, Tampa Bay captured two victories in three matchups this season. The Lightning erased a 2-0 deficit in the first meeting on October 9 at Amalie Arena to edge the Capitals, 4-3. Kucherov scored the game-tying goal in the third period, while Point delivered the winner in overtime as Tampa Bay outshot Washington, 40-26.
The Capitals picked up revenge at home in the next matchup on November 24 as Washington cruised past Tampa Bay, 3-1 as +130 underdogs. Ovechkin was one of three Washington goal-scorers in the win as the Caps outshot the Bolts, 38-26, while Philipp Grubauer picked up 25 saves for the Capitals.
The Lightning won in their next visit to D.C. on February 20 in a 4-2 triumph as -130 favorites. Tampa Bay struck for three goals in the first period, including a pair of goals from Point. Ovechkin netted the lone goal for Washington, while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 shots for Tampa Bay.
Head-to-Head Playoff History: The Capitals and Lightning are hooking up for the third time ever in the postseason. Tampa Bay captured the first two series as the Bolts knocked out the Caps in six games of the 2003 quarterfinals and pulled off a sweep of Washington in the 2011 semifinals.
Vegas vs. Winnipeg
How they got here: The Vegas Golden Knights completed the greatest season for an expansion team in NHL history and aren’t done yet. Not only did the Golden Knights capture the Pacific division title with 109 points and 51 victories, but Vegas also knocked out playoff veterans Los Angeles and San Jose in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Vegas made quick work of Los Angeles in the opening round by sweeping the Kings, while allowing only three goals in the series. The Golden Knights were tested by the Sharks in the conference semifinals as the division rivals split the first four games. However, Vegas pulled away with a pair of wins in the next two contests to advance to the conference finals as the Knights scored at least three goals in all four wins.
The Golden Knights are at this point of the season in spite of not having a single player register at least 78 points. William Karlsson posted 43 goals for Vegas, while three other Knights scored at least 25 goals, paced by Erik Haula’s 29 goals. The Knights went through four goalies this season after some early season injuries, but Marc-Andre Fleury has been the backstop by compiling a 2.24 goals against average.
The Jets are new to this round as well, qualifying for the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Winnipeg finished with the second-most points in the NHL (114) as it knocked out a pair of Central division rivals in the first two rounds. After eliminating Minnesota in five games, the Jets knocked out the top team in the NHL by staving off the Predators in seven games of the conference semifinals.
In the second round, neither team won consecutive games, but the Jets were the last team standing by winning its third contest at Bridgestone Arena in a Game 7 blowout. Winnipeg owns a 4-2 road record in the playoffs, although the Jets will have home-ice advantage in this round. In three home games against Nashville, the Jets lost twice, while scoring a combined one goal in the two defeats.
Right wing Patrik Laine netted 44 goals to lead Winnipeg, while Blake Wheeler dished out 68 assists and posted a team-best 91 points. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck put together a dynamic season in net for Winnipeg by winning 44 games in the regular season, while posting six shutouts.
Head-to-Head Matchups: Vegas captured two of three regular season matchups with Winnipeg as these teams haven’t hooked up since February. The Golden Knights blasted the Jets on November 10 at T-Mobile Arena, 5-2 as +115 underdogs. Vegas led from start to finish in the first meeting as the Knights jumped out to a 2-0 lead, while Karlsson scored two goals in the win.
Less than a month later back in Winnipeg, the Jets picked up revenge in a 7-4 blowout as a nearly -200 favorite. The Knights led 2-1 after one period, but the Jets pulled away in the third period by scoring five goals on only nine shots. Hellebuyck struggled for the second straight time against Vegas as he allowed nine goals in the first two meetings.
The Golden Knights captured the final matchup in overtime at Winnipeg, 3-2 on February 1. David Perron scored the game-winning goal in OT as Fleury beat the Jets in his only start against them this season.