The Tampa Bay Lightning return to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in franchise history after beating the Washington Capitals 5-3 to complete a sweep of the Southeast Division champion and the conference's number one seeded team.
The Lightning got on the board first with a power play goal from Ryan Malone at 12:37 of the first period. They would end the period tied at one after Marco Sturm scored on a power play tip-in six minutes later but the Bolts never trailed.
As has been the story of late, the Lightning got major contributions from their third line, specifically Sean Bergenheim who scored twice (with assists on both goals from Dominick Moore) in the second to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead after two periods. Steve Downie also tallied two assists on the night
They extended the lead to 5-2 after goals from Marc-Andre Bergeron and Martin St. Louis (on the power play) before surrendering one final late goal to Washington's John Carlson.Oddly enough, the desperation one would expect from a team facing elimination didn't really seem to be a factor in Washington's play. Instead, if not lethargic, the Capitals looked tentative throughout. They were also sloppy and it cost them, as evidenced by Alex Ovechkin taking a charging penalty that resulted in the first Tampa Bay goal and Sturm getting called for goaltender interference, which resulted in Bergeron's goal, the eventual game winner. Ovechkin disagrees:
"I don’t think we weren’t hungry. One team has to win and one team has to lose. Unfortunately we were the ones who lost."
At any rate, the end result is that the Capitals were swept for the first time in a postseason series since the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay celebrated their second series sweep in franchise history, previously accomplishing the feat against the Montreal Canadiens, also in the Semifinals, in their march to the Stanley Cup in 2004. They've now won seven straight postseason games and wait to find out who their opponent in the conference finals will be. As of right now, the Boston Bruins hold a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers (as they did in last season's semifinals before Philadelphia came all the way back to beat the Bruins and eventually advance to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks).
For the Lightning, the continued emergence of Sean Bergenheim has been a major asset. Bergenheim now has seven goals in 11 playoff games after scoring 14 during 80 regular season games. He's currently tied for the league lead in playoff goals.
"This year every top game, every important game, every game that there is some pressure, he was in it. He was one of our better players. Some people freeze under pressure, some people fly away and some people fight. He fights." -- Lightning head coach Guy Boucher
Meanwhile, 41-year-old netminder Dwayne Roloson continued his steadily dominant play, stopping 33 of 36 shots. His .941 save percentage and 2.11 Goals Against Average lead all playoff goaltenders.
"He’s been great. We try to limit the shots he sees and help out around the net, but so far, so good." -- Lightning forward Ryan Malone
Dates (and of course, an opponent) are not set for the Conference Finals, but the Lightning will start the series on the road, regardless of who they play, due to Boston (#3) Philadelphia (#2) being seeded higher. The Lightning and Nashville Predators, both fifth seeds, are the lowest seeds remaining in the playoffs.