Call it the Lightning effect.
The Washington Capitals are a win away from ending years of frustration and winning their first Stanley Cup.
As if we doubted them.
Alex Ovechkin and his Caps teammates have the Tampa Bay Lightning Good Housekeeping Stanley Cup playoffs seal of approval.
It's not a coincidence, like Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln. Lightning, maker of champions, is undeniable. The Lightning did Washington a real favor by rolling over and dying in the sixth and seventh games of the Eastern Conference final. Not even a goal. Have at it, Ovie.
Now the Caps are poised to win it all.
It's nothing new, kids.
In 2011, the upstart Lightning lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final, Boston went on to win the Stanley Cup.
In 2015, the Lightning lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup final.
In 2016, the Lightning lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final. Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup.
And now 2018. The Lightning owned the Eastern Conference for a good part of the season. They seemed poised to win a Cup.
And they lost to the Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.
What's to stop Washington? It seems like a lock, at least it did Monday night, when the Caps stomped the Vegas Golden Knights to take a 3-1 lead in the Cup final.
You know what's hard? It's hard to stop thinking about what might have been. It could be the Lightning that is a win away from lifting Stanley. It could be the Lightning letting the air out of Vegas' wondrous expansion balloon. It could be Lightning watch parties and Lightning fever. It could be Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman's time. I still can't believe it.
Only it isn't.
Look, through four games Washington is doing unto Vegas what it did to the Lightning. It is shutting down Vegas in the neutral zone. Its stars are stepping up. Ovechkin has been an absolute beast. It finally looks to be his time.
You're welcome, Ovie!
Okay, so it's not as if Washington didn't have a head of steam before playing the Lightning. The Caps had come back on Columbus and then expelled the demons that was two-time defending Cup winner Pittsburgh.
Still, I picked the Lightning to beat the Caps. I'd take them tomorrow, too.
Oh, and I picked Vegas to lose in the first round.
Sometimes teams just get it in their head that it's their time. That hasn't happened yet with the Lightning, strong season or no. And so, we sit around as the Lightning push assistant coaches out the door in the first step toward next season, which can't get here soon enough.
But this franchise, while it can't go through the door, has become expert at holding it open for someone else. The road to the Stanley Cup goes through Tampa Bay, only Tampa Bay isn't going along. It's watching as the Cup final rages, as Alex Ovechkin inches closer to the Cup his critics said he didn't care about but has always wanted to win.
With Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Braden Holtby leading the way, the Washington Capitals are on the verge of capturing the first title in their 43rd season. #ALLCAPS @TB_Times #StanleyCup #VegasBorn @Capitals https://t.co/qTVS4RRQiN— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) June 5, 2018
This is not to say Washington still can't collapse. It has happened before in that franchise's history and it could happen again. Who knows what ghouls will be unleashed inside Caps' noggins if Vegas wins Game 5 back home on Thursday.
But this feels like a different Washington team. And it has the watch parties to prove it. I bet the Caps even go to the White House if they win the Cup. But before they thank the president for the invite, they ought to thank the Lightning for directions to the party.
The Lightning seal of approval is looking good.
It's alive and well, even if the Lightning isn't.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029