Nothing like beginning the NHL conference finals lower than a day after a Game 7 between two Western Conference powers.

The East remaining — which will get underway Friday evening (eight p.m. ET, NBCSN) — features a Washington Capitals group that has by no means made it this far within the Alex Ovechkin period and a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that’s three years faraway from a Stanley Cup Final look. The enlargement Vegas Golden Knights — want we are saying extra? — will tackle the Winnipeg Jets within the West remaining starting Saturday (7 p.m., NBC).

Here’s who the USA TODAY Sports NHL employees sees reaching the Stanley Cup Final:


Kevin Allen: Lightning in seven. This is one other toss-up sequence. Both groups are averaging close to three.5 targets per sport within the postseason, whereas the Lightning are giving up 2.5 targets per sport and Washington 2.67. The Capitals have Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Tampa Bay boasts Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Braden Holtby vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy looks like a push. Taking the Lightning  on a hunch greater than the rest. Should be an distinctive sequence.

Jimmy Hascup: Lightning in six. Tampa Bay’s expertise is simply too nice up and down the lineup. The Lightning have starpower and depth and they’ll play a bodily or finesse sport. Their high three on protection — Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman — are the category of the East. The concern stays their penalty kill, which has continued to battle even within the postseason. The Capitals have relied closely on power-play manufacturing.

More: Capitals end Penguins’ championship run, years of heartbreak. Is it their time?

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Mike Brehm: Lightning in seven. The Lightning have been rolling via the playoffs and manhandled an excellent Bruins group with out getting a ton of scoring from their high line. Tampa Bay has higher depth, significantly if Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom is enjoying damage, and Andrei Vasilevskiy can match Braden Holtby save for save. Plus, many Lightning gamers have been to the Stanley Cup Final. They know what’s wanted to get previous this spherical.

Jace Evans: Lightning in six. The Lightning cruised via the primary two rounds of the playoffs and are more healthy than the Capitals, who most notably have star heart Nicklas Backstrom in a “day-to-day” standing because of an upper-body harm.


Allen: Golden Knights in six. It feels as if the Jets will explode offensively in opposition to the Golden Knights, however how will you not consider in Vegas’ endurance? They have defied all typical knowledge to advance this far. The Jets are dynamic and Golden Knights are decided. Going with decided.

More: Jets reach conference final for first time in franchise history with Game 7 win at Predators

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Hascup: Jets in six. To decelerate an offense as explosive because the Jets’ in a playoff sequence is a troublesome process for Marc-Andre Fleury and a protection that will not have the ability to match up in opposition to only one line. The Jets are harmful as a result of they’ll flip video games rapidly via high quality probabilities quite than counting on quantity. Winnipeg shall be bolstered by its powerful sequence win in opposition to the Predators. 

Brehm: Golden Knights in six. The Jets would be the Golden Knights’ hardest take a look at. They’re quick, can rating in bunches and have home-ice benefit. But Vegas is quick, too, performs a tricky group defensive fashion and will get clutch scoring. Plus, Marc-Andre Fleury has been the very best goalie of those playoffs.

Evans: Jets in seven. Marc-Andre Fleury has performed about the very best hockey of his profession, however the Jets confirmed in opposition to the Predators that they’re a deep, resilient group – and one which has regained house ice for the rest of the playoffs.


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