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Like many young Russian hockey players Authentic Da'Ron Payne Jersey , Nikita Kucherov grew up following Alex Ovechkin’s career, hoping to someday become a prolific scorer and maybe even compete against his countryman in the Stanley Cup playoffs.The 24-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning winger has spent five seasons fulfilling the first portion of the dream.
The other part becomes a reality Friday night, when the Lightning open the Eastern Conference finals against Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals.
”When he came in the league, he was the best player, and I mean he’s still the best player,” Kucherov said.
”Everybody would talk about him, and I definitely wanted to be in his spot one day, scoring goals,” the Lightning star added. ”He’s a great example for young kids and someone to look up to.”
Ovechkin is also looking for his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final, a platform Kucherov has already performed on.
The Lightning, who also feature of couple of other young Russians playing key roles in goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, are in the conference final for the third time in four years.
In 2015, they defeated the New York Rangers before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Cup Final.
”It’s great competition to play against the best players and then against your countrymen Saints Cheap Jerseys ,” Kucherov said.
”I think it’s great for Russia to see the young guys come into North America and go through the CHL, AHL and then make it to the NHL,” he added. ”It’s great to see and to see how the kids want to be in the best league in the world. They don’t care about the money in the KHL, they want to be in the best league and play against the best. It’s nice to see.”
The Lightning have been exceptional through the first two rounds of the playoffs, going 6-1 at home while eliminating both the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in five games.
The Capitals beat Columbus in the opening round before ousting the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
”They are similar to us in that they have a pretty deep lineup, a very lethal power play and forwards that can really change the momentum of the game with how good they are,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.
”We are going to need to rely on our depth as well and stay disciplined. That’s something we’ve talked about going against Boston with how good their power play is and we saw first hand that if we are going to take penalties, teams are going to make us pay,” Stamkos added. ”Washington is very similar in that regard. That will be one of the keys for us.”
Ovechkin expects the Atlantic Division winners to be a stern test, too.
”Right now, in this situation in this time of year, everybody has the best players, the best goalies Cheap Robert Griffin III Jersey , and you have to be the best to beat them,” the Capitals star said.
”That has to be in our mind and we have to play as a group, not play individually.”
Some things to know about the Capitals and Lightning, one-time Southeast Division rivals meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 2011:
CAPITALS REINFORCEMENTS: Washington won Game 6 in overtime at Pittsburgh without top center Nicklas Backstrom and wingers Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson.
Backstrom, who took a shot from Justin Schultz off his right hand in Game 5 against the Penguins on Saturday, skated and did some light stickhandling Thursday; Burakovsky (out with upper-body injury) practiced and are each considered day-to-day.
Wilson will be back off a three-game suspension, and with Backstrom and Burakovsky potentially close, the Capitals could have their full lineup soon.
”The first instinct is to try to put the lines back together that you had, but this time of year, you go with the guys who are going,” coach Barry Trotz said. ”The guys that are going well, you use, and the other guys wait for another opportunity. When I get the word Cheap Josh Sitton Jersey , then we’ll put them back together.”
ROAD WARRIORS: The Capitals are 5-1 on the road through two rounds and 9-3 away from home going back to the 2017 playoffs. It helps Trotz to be able to get his top defensive pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen out against opponents’ stars, but beginning on the road could prove beneficial for Washington.
”With the matchups on the road, you don’t get them all the time so I think guys are a little more aware of who they’re on the ice against, maybe a little more engaged in terms of knowing who’s on the ice,” winger Brett Connolly said.
”So I think we’re just playing on the road. Barry’s just throwing guys over the boards and they ultimately get to decide who they want to play against that line, so guys are feeling confident and comfortable and just playing and feel good about themselves.”
LONG TIME SINCE 2011: Only five players in this series were around when the Lightning and Capitals last met in the playoffs back in 2011: Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman and Washington’s Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson. The Lightning won in a sweep before losing in seven to Boston in the East final.
”Obviously we haven’t played these guys in meaningful games like this for a while,” Stamkos said. ”So we can definitely expect a different series than that was.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

A look at where things stand in the NBA playoff picture, with seven days remaining in the regular season:

EAST UPDATE
The field of eight is set. And now, it’s all about the seeding.
Toronto is on the brink of being No. 1, and Milwaukee cannot fall past No. 8.
The Raptors – who were starting to look a little shaky – beat Boston in a matchup of the Eastern Conference’s two top teams this season. The win lowered Toronto’s magic number for clinching the No. 1 seed in the East to one; another Raptors win or Celtics loss will give Toronto home-court advantage for the entirety of the East playoffs.
Detroit’s loss to Philadelphia was the playoff-clincher for Milwaukee, which is making back-to-back playoff trips for the first time since the 2003 and 2004 postseasons. The victory also pulled the 76ers – now winners of 12 straight – even with Cleveland for the third-best record in the East at 48-30, with the Cavaliers holding the tiebreaker there.
Philadelphia hosts Cleveland on Friday Youth Mike Hughes Jersey , the second night of a back-to-back for the Cavaliers.
Miami, playing while Goran Dragic, James Johnson and Dwyane Wade all were held out, rolled to an easy win at Atlanta – and moved past Washington for outright control of the No. 6 spot (along with the Southeast Division lead, if that still matters).

WEST UPDATE
New Orleans strengthened its hold on a playoff spot with an easy win over Memphis. The Pelicans are only one game ahead of No. 9 Denver – yet also just one game behind No. 4 Utah.
The West is just a mess, at least in the race for the final five spots.
San Antonio could have gone to No. 4, but lost on the road in overtime to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Spurs remained in the No. 5 spot, holding a tiebreaker edge over No. 6 Oklahoma City, and just a half-game up on No. 7 Minnesota and the currently eighth-seeded Pelicans.

THURSDAY’S GAMES
There are six games on the schedule and each one has playoff implications.
– Golden State at Indiana: Big for the Warriors in their quest to finish with the NBA’s second-best record (which would assure home-court advantage if they were to make the NBA Finals). Big for the Pacers if they want to move up to the No. 4 spot before the end of the season; they’ll remain fifth in the East when Thursday night ends regardless of the outcome.
– Washington at Cleveland: The Cavaliers will be a half-game ahead of Philadelphia and remain No. 3 in the East with a win, and fall a half-game behind the 76ers and into the No. 4 spot with a loss. The Wizards need to get back on track; they’ve lost six of eight, but now have John Wall back and still have time to find playoff form.
– Portland at Houston: The Blazers can move closer to locking up No. 3, though they likely won’t have Damian Lillard because of a left ankle injury. The Rockets are just looking to ensure they start the playoffs healthy; their No. 1 overall seed is sealed.
– Brooklyn at Milwaukee: The Bucks are part of that three-team tussle for No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 in the East with Washington and Miami.
– L.A. Clippers at Utah: Huge game for both teams. It’s about as close to a must-win as can be for the Clippers. A Jazz win keeps coach Quin Snyder’s club in the driver’s seat for home-court advantage in Round 1.
– Minnesota at Denver: The Nuggets will start the day on the outside looking in – but control their destiny. Timberwolves fans Curt Schilling Jersey , meanwhile, are sweating it out to see if they’ll be getting any playoff games in Minneapolis for the first time since 2004.

CURRENT BRACKET
First-round matchups if the season ended Wednesday …
East: 1-Toronto vs. 8-Milwaukee, 2-Boston vs. 7-Washington, 3-Cleveland vs. 6-Miami, 4-Philadelphia vs. 5-Indiana.
West: 1-Houston vs. 8-New Orleans, 2-Golden State vs. 7-Minnesota, 3-Portland vs. 6-Oklahoma City, 4-Utah vs. 5-San Antonio.

NOTE OF THE DAY
A seven-way tie for fourth in the West is still possible, with everyone at 46-36. If that were to happen, one team with that record would get home-court advantage and two teams with that record would miss the playoffs entirely.

QUOTE OF THE DAY
”They’re going to be a tough out in the playoffs.” – Detroit’s Anthony Tolliver, on surging Philadelphia.

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