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Tampa Bay Lightning bend but do not break, beat Capitals 4-2

Brayden Point scores two, Nikita Kucherov humiliates Holtby, Lightning win. Easy!

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) controls the puck in front of Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) during the first period at Capital One Arena. 
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the back of two goals by Brayden Point, allowed the Washington Capitals to mount a two-goal comeback, but a disgusting breakaway goal by Nikita Kucherov seals the deal. Lightning win 4-2. Andrei Vasilevskiy gets beat on two world-class one-timers but is otherwise perfect for a 35-save performance.

Here’s my play by play of the action.

First Period

Former Lightning prospect Brett Connolly hits Dan Girardi with a rising shoulder check to the head. Mikhail Sergachev tries to go after Connolly but is restrained by his teammates in a very “HOLD ME BACK!” fashion. Connolly gets sent to the box for interference.

1-0

Captain Steven Stamkos is able to get his patented one-timer off from his spot at the far half-wall but is forced to change. The second group comes out and, with the relentless stick checking of Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan is able to steal the puck down low and set up Brayden Point for the game’s opening goal.

The team’s defense has looked a lot better in this game. Starting with the defensemen, the Capitals have not been successful in attaining space in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy’s net or get any kind of momentum-building forecheck started. Good signs. On the other side, Sergachev has made a point to be aggressive up the left-side wall, something he is able to do when he knows he has the F3 (the forward who plays above the forecheckers as a safety net for odd-man rushes or as an outlet for a play towards the slot) backing him up.

Vladislav Namestnikov definitely has his happy feet on tonight. He and Chris Kunitz link up for a relatively uninterrupted zone entry. Vladdy uses his agility to create space between him and the defenseman so that he can feed Ryan Callahan for a scoring chance at the near post. Braden Holtby gets his left foot to the post in time and holds it in place so that there is not chance for Callahan to bang home the rebound.

2-0

Brooks Orpik tries to be effective by knocking Ryan Callahan to his butt. Safe to say it was not very effective because the Lightning were able to maintain the cycle. The puck slides back to Andrej Sustr, who puts it toward the net. With one hand, Kunitz is able to tip the puck up and over Holtby for the second goal of the game. The Namestnikov line has been electric all game and they get rewarded early.

3-0

Braydon Point gets another! Anton Stralman catches the Capitals on a bad line change, feeding the puck to Point. Pointer goes in, protects the puck from the defenders chasing him, dekes to the back-hand, and scores his 23rd goal of the season! Stralman gets the lone assist.

After One

The Lightning exited the first period with a commanding share of the shot attempts (21-13), tied in shots (8-8), and leading in scoring chances (7-5). The eye test definitely agrees with these numbers because it felt like the Lightning were in the offensive zone all game, just hounding the defense with an annoying buzz to limit their time and space whenever they got the puck.

Blog Commander Achariya made sure to point out that the Capitals are playing the back end of a back-to-back and third game in four nights. She has a point...I guess...But so do the Lightning and he has two goals tonight!

Second Period

Alex Ovechkin steps on the ice for the second period and decides he wants to score a goal. John Carlson sends a three-line pass to Ovi, who has a step on the only defenseman back: Victor Hedman. Heddy uses his tree trunk of a stick to bat the puck away from Ovechkin, even when Ovi had the puck as far away from Hedman as he possibly could. Even Ovi can’t score on that.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) attempts to control the puck as Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) defends during the second period at Capital One Arena.
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Capitals have definitely turned it on this period with Ovechkin leading the way by creating a few dangerous moments that force the Lightning to scramble in their own zone. One of these moments leads Vladdy Namestnikov to take a tripping penalty on Tom Wilson.

3-1

On the power play, Lars Eller receives a pass from Dmitri Orlov and one-times it past Vasy’s blocker, about six inches above the pad. A perfect shot that forced a goaltender who was moving to his left to react to the right.

As the period ends, the game starts to open up. Ovechkin uses his biggest asset — his shot — to force Vasy into making tough saves that leak rebounds and turn into more scoring chances. The Lightning get stuck in their own zone and are forced to flip the puck out a couple times just to relieve the pressure.

Eventually, the Bolts catch a break when Point and Nikita Kucherov cause a turnover in the Capitals’ zone and nearly come away with a goal. Unfortunalty, that is one of only a few scoring chances the Lightning were able to muster in the period, especially the second half.

After Two

The Capitals not only get one goal back, but they kill the Lightning in the shot battles. For the period, the Lightning were out-shot (5-14), out-attempted (13-24), and out-chanced (7-10) for two period totals of 13-22, 34-40, and 14-15 respectively.

Maybe it was the Caps making adjustments, maybe it was Ovechkin, maybe it was the long change. Whatever the reason, the Lightning need to be better in the third if they want a W.

Third Period

Gourde is able to feed Stamkos for a slick reverse spin-o-rama chance early in the period, but for the most part, the Lightning have been getting stifled by the Caps’ man-to-man coverage.

Ovi once again causes trouble for the Lightning, this time he draws a slashing penalty on Ryan Callahan. Callahan had just blocked a shot and was trying to skate the puck up the ice but it bobbled on him. Ovi picked up the disc and skated by, forcing Cally to hack at his stick to try and dislodge the puck. Slashing has been one of the few rules that has been called consistantly this season.

The power play has made it apparent that the Caps are trying to force Vasilevskiy to move one way while blasting a one-timer to the opposite post. It’s a very effective move that can either beat Vasy clean or open up a variety of holes for deflections. It was the case for the Eller goal and Ovi has tried it a few times as well.

3-2

The Lightning have been having trouble getting the puck out of the zone for the better part of two periods. Vasy tries to clear the puck all on his own but the puck gets stopped at the blueline by Matt Niskanen. The Great 8 gets his 36th goal of the season on his ninth shot of the game. With nine minutes to go in a now one-goal game, the Lightning have a lot of time to kill.

4-2

Kucherov gets released for a breakaway after the Caps turn the puck over to Braydon Coburn. Kuch comes in completely alone AND PULLS OFF THE FAKE-SHOT HE SCORED ON HOLTBY AT THE ALL-STAR GAME! With the puck moving straight ahead, Kuch waved his stick over the puck back and forth a few times before faking to the backhand while the puck slid through the five-hole of Holtby.

The All-Star Game goal:

With three minutes to go, Hedman and Dotchin are able to win a puck battle in the defensive zone and outlet the puck to Point. Instead of chipping the puck up the ice, Point makes a small pass to Kunitz and the line breaks out with the puck. The group is able to keep the puck in the offensive zone long enough that Point eventually draws a cross-checking penalty on Orpik. With 2:19 to go in a 2-goal game and a power play, this is the play that should end any chance for the Capitals to come back.

Alas, the Caps pull Holtby and try to mount a comeback with five players on the ice. The top team in the Metro try their darndest but the Bolts do not break.

Bolts win!

The Lightning are now 40-17-3 on the season, good for 83 points and #1 in the NHL. Kucherov’s goal gives him a eight-point cushion on Evgeni Malkin for the league’s scoring race. Kucherov’s 27 even-strength goals also lead the league, one ahead of Ovechkin and two ahead of Toronto’s Auston Matthews.