TAMPA, Fla. — Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is closer than ever to playing for the Stanley Cup, and he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity.

“I’ve never been in this position before,” he said Tuesday, looking ahead to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The winner Wednesday night earns a berth in the Stanley Cup final opposite the Vegas Golden Knights.

Ovechkin and the Capitals are hoping to shed a label as playoff underachievers, a franchise that dazzles during the regular season only to disappoint at the most important time of the year.

“I’m excited. We’re all excited. … We all want to be in this position and move forward,” said Ovechkin, who is playing in the conference final for the first time during his prolific 13-year career. “(Wednesday night) is probably biggest game in my life, this team, organization probably. … We still haven’t reached our goal.

“Tomorrow is going to be a huge step forward.”

Not if the Lightning have their way. Tampa Bay is playing Game 7 in the conference final for the third time in four years. It beat the Rangers on the road to advance to the 2015 Cup final, but fell short the following year against Pittsburgh.

Washington forced Wednesday’s winner-take-all matchup with a dominating 3-0 victory in Game 6.

In a series where home ice has not been a clear advantage, the Lightning are hoping it provides an edge in Game 7. Washington won Games 1 and 2 in Tampa, then dropped the next two at home.

The Capitals are 7-2 on the road this postseason.

Islanders: Lou Lamoriello is taking over as president of hockey operations, giving the longtime NHL executive the keys to a franchise that has missed the playoffs eight times in the past 12 years with General Manager Garth Snow, the former University of Maine goaltender.

The 75-year-old Lamoriello, who led New Jersey to three Stanley Cup titles and helped Toronto become playoff contenders again, is tasked with trying to re-sign star center John Tavares and the future of Snow and Coach Doug Weight.

CANADIENS: Goalie Antti Niemi was seeking stability more than money when he agreed to a one-year, $950,000 contract with Montreal.

Who could blame the 34-year-old, who was eligible for free agency on July 1, after a whirlwind 2017-18 season? Niemi was bought out by the Dallas Stars last summer, signed with Pittsburgh, was claimed on waivers by Florida and then claimed again by Montreal.

WILD: Paul Fenton, 58, was introduced on Tuesday as the new general manager, taking over a team that has reached the postseason six straight times to match the longest streak in the Western Conference, but won only two series during that run.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.