• September 13, 2018 at 3:14 am

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    NEW YORK — The New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays will experience what it’s like to look across the field and feel as if they’re staring into a mirror for the last time this season on Sunday afternoon when the teams play the rubber game of a three-game series at Citi Field.

    The Mets’ Chris Flexen (0-1 Randall Cobb Jersey , 10.80 ERA) is scheduled to face the Rays’ Nathan Eovaldi (2-3, 3.92) in a battle of right-handers.

    The Rays posted a 3-0 win Saturday afternoon when ace left-hander Blake Snell tossed 7 1/3 strong innings and Wilson Ramos collected two RBIs.

    The Mets and Rays have combined for just nine runs in the first two games, four of which were registered when New York’s Jose Bautista hit a walk-off grand slam to lift the Mets to a 5-1 win on Friday night. The teams had just eight hits in 77 plate appearances with runners on base on Friday and Saturday.

    Such struggles have become routine for the Rays and Mets, who ranked 26th and 27th in the majors in runs scored after Saturday’s game — during which Tampa Bay moved past New York.

    The offensive woes have threatened to negate the strong work of both pitching staffs. The Rays (44-44) have a 2.77 ERA since May 19, when they began infusing their rotation with the “opener” in select games.

    “I think that with the way we’ve pitched, we find ourselves being in a lot of ballgames,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Saturday’s game. “But when the bats are quiet, it just becomes really, really tough to find ways to win ballgames.”

    Starting pitchers for the Mets (35-50), meanwhile Malcolm Smith Jersey , have a 2.25 ERA in the last six games and a 3.94 ERA this year. New York’s three most utilized starters — Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz — are 11-16 despite a 3.06 ERA in 51 games.

    “If we win just five games of deGrom’s and Matz’s and Wheeler’s — and that’s being conservative — we’re right where we want to be,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said after Saturday’s game. “And it just hasn’t happened.”

    Flexen will make his first start of the season and his first appearance since June 24, when he took the loss after giving up one run in one inning as the Mets fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-7 in 11 innings. He hasn’t started in the majors since last Oct 1, when Flexen allowed six runs (five earned) in 1 1/3 innings as New York fell to the Philadelphia Phillies 11-0 in the season finale.

    Eovaldi didn’t factor into the decision in his most recent start Monday, when he gave up two runs in six innings as the Rays fell to the Miami Marlins 3-2 in 10 innings. He has allowed two runs or fewer three times in seven starts this season but has surrendered at least four runs three other times.

    Flexen has never faced the Rays. Eovaldi is 1-4 with a 5.01 ERA in nine career starts against the Mets.

    TAMPA, Fla. — The Washington Capitals are in their first conference final in 20 years and the Tampa Bay Lightning are in for the third time in four years.

    Will experience be an edge over the motivation of waiting so long to get to this point in the postseason?

    “We know what’s coming,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the heightened attention and greater distractions that come with a deep playoff run. “It’s a whole different feel, because we’ve been there. That’s a good thing.”

    Tampa Bay has dispatched New Jersey and Boston in five games each, and Washington has had a more difficult path to this point Terrell Owens Jersey , rallying from an 0-2 deficit to beat Columbus, then again needing six games to eliminate the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

    “If you’re going to have success against really good teams, Pitt, Tampa, anybody going forward, you’ve got to be hard, you’ve got to be detailed, you’ve got to be compact, you’ve got to make good decisions, you’ve got to have an extremely high work ethic and high commitment John Jerry Jersey ,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.

    Tampa Bay led the NHL in scoring in the regular season and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin led the league in goals with 49, adding another eight in the postseason. If anything, the Lightning beat the Bruins without dominant play from their top scorers, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

    Where does the advantage stand in goaltending? Washington’s Braden Holtby is a former Vezina winner, but he ranked 37th in the NHL in save percentage during the regular season and played a combined 65 games without a shutout. He has played nearly a goal a game better in the playoffs, giving up 2.99 per game during the regular season but just 2.04 in the postseason.

    Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy has been sharp, allowing 2.24 goals per game in the playoffs, and tied for the NHL lead in shutouts with eight.

    Tampa Bay had a slight edge in the regular season, going 2-1 against Washington, rallying for a 4-3 overtime win in the first week of the season Trae Waynes Jersey , falling 3-1 in November and winning 4-2 in February. The two were nearly identical on special teams in those games, with Tampa Bay going 3 of 10 on power plays and Washington was 3 of 9.

    The Capitals have been unusually strong on the road in the past month, going 5-1 in Columbus and Pittsburgh while just 3-3 on their home ice.

    The Lightning pulled away from the Bruins by winning both games in Boston and has both the advantage of home ice and added rest going into this series with Washington.

    While Tampa Bay made headlines in the regular season with their high-scoring offense, they separated themselves from Boston with physical play, something that carried over from the opening series with New Jersey.

    “We’re not really looked at as that physical team, but we know we have it in us,” Cooper said. “Everyone was on board. Our game plan was to make it hard on them. That’s it. It’s been working for us.”

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