The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Washington Capitals 4-2 to cut Washington’s series lead to 2-1. Jon Cooper didn’t make any line changes during the morning skate, but many of us at Raw Charge thought he’d alter them by game time. We were correct in our assumption when Cooper moved Ondrej Palat onto the top line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, Yanni Gourde with Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson, and J.T. Miller with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn. Cooper also stuck to his game-plan of matching the Cedric Paquette line against the Kuznetsov line.
Early showings during the opening period weren’t entirely positive for Tampa Bay. Washington continued to cut through the neutral zone and get around the Lightning defense, and when Tampa Bay did get into the offensive zone, they struggled to get shots on Holtby; it was more due to missing the net than having their shots blocked, though. It did take Tampa Bay seven minutes to register their first shot on net after all. The Lightning tweaked their neutral zone strategy and were a little more aggressive, but Washington refused to back down with their forechecking pressure.
During one of Tampa’s early short-lived possessions in the offensive zone, Anton Stralman boarded (quite clearly) Tom Wilson into the boards and was penalized for it. Stralman left his feet and hit Wilson on the numbers. And yes, Wilson did turn his body at the last second but that’s still a very poor decision for Stralman (if he gets a call from the NHL I wouldn’t be surprised). So, Tampa Bay’s porous penalty kill was put against a lethal Washington power-play once again. Optimism wasn’t high among the Lightning faithful.
It wasn’t pretty but a killed penalty in any fashion is progress at this point for the Lightning and that’s exactly what they did here. They were still too passive for my liking but complaining about their strategy at this point is useless since they’re not going to alter it much moving forward. Tampa Bay looked to allow Evgeny Kuznetsov to hold onto the puck and close off his passing lanes on the kill. It worked in the results area but Washington did manage two dangerous shots on this opportunity.
This kill gave the Lightning some much needed life and it was displayed as the newly tweaked Point line pinned the Capitals in their own zone and generated pressure on Holtby. It resulted in Holtby tripping Gourde and giving Tampa Bay their first power-play of the game. It only took the Lightning a little under a minute to convert on the man advantage as Steven Stamkos fired a missile past Holtby to give Tampa their second lead of the series 13:52 into the period. The goal marked the first time Tampa had scored first in this series. There isn’t much to breakdown here, just great puck movement by Kucherov and Hedman, and a howitzer of a shot by Stamkos that Holtby had no chance to save.
Washington surged back after the Stamkos goal and pinned the Lightning in their zone on a few occasions during the remaining six minutes of the period. Washington’s most dangerous chance was an Alex Ovechkin shot that Vasilevskiy swallowed up with 58 seconds left in the period. Entering the first intermission, the Lightning lead on the scoreboard but trailed on the shot clock 14-10. It wasn’t entirely different from the first period from Game two. Washington still did much of what they did in the previous two games except scoring. Entering the second period, Tampa Bay needed to impose themselves on Washington to secure a victory.
Early in the second, Lars Eller took a dumb penalty (closing his hand on the puck) that put Tampa Bay back on the power-play and the Lightning made them pay immediately as Nikita Kucherov blasted his own one-timer past Holtby to make it 2-0 Tampa Bay just 1:50 into the period. Just like Stamkos’ goal, this was the result of good puck movement by Point, Stamkos, and Hedman. Tampa Bay had finally established control in a game and were looking to maintain pressure on Washington. They did just that 1:47 later as Victor Hedman scored his first goal of the postseason (yes, you read that right). This was a result of puck retrieval by Ondrej Palat and impressive passing by Kucherov. Kucherov carried the puck into the right faceoff circle before he lost the puck to a Capitals defender’s skate. The puck bounced into the right corner where Palat recovered it before giving it back to Kucherov. Two Capitals defenders went to cover Kucherov and as this occurred, Hedman drove down into the slot where Kucherov fed him a perfect pass. Hedman tapped it past Holtby to give the Lightning a dominating 3-0 lead.
Washington surged back after the Hedman goal and Vasilevskiy responded by closing the door on multiple scoring chances. Once the Lightning settled down after this surge, they pushed back in their own way by pinning the Capitals in their own zone and forcing Holtby into a few dangerous situations. It was promising to see Tampa Bay actually force Holtby to make saves in this game since his workload in the first two games wasn’t exactly tiring. Another penalty on Eller gave the Lightning a chance to further twist the dagger midway through the period but Tampa Bay reverted back to their inconsistent puck movement and decision making as the Capitals penalty kill shut down their third power-play opportunity.
Shortly after this failed power-play, Washington came to life as Brett Connolly scored on a one-timer after the Lightning failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone. Interestingly, Washington dumped the puck into the Lightning zone a few feet behind the red line, which should’ve resulted in an icing call (you can see Kucherov signal this to the referee). The officials decided to waive off the icing. Immediately after, Hedman’s clearing attempt bounced off Matt Niskanen’s skate and back into the zone where Chandler Stephenson recovered it and found a wide-open Connolly for the goal.
Washington, again, pressured the Lightning and generated some dangerous opportunities that Vasilevskiy had to thwart. It wasn’t so much the Lightning defenders were playing poorly as it was Washington simply feeding off the momentum of the Connolly goal. A roughing penalty to Ryan Callahan gave Washington another chance for a momentum shift but this time around Vasilevskiy shut the door. He stopped a variety of shots as the Lightning penalty kill was not sharp during this attempt. Tampa Bay survived another dangerous situation and responded a few minutes later as Brayden Point got to a loose puck and fired it past Holtby to make it 4-1 with 3:57 left in the second. After winning a faceoff, the puck made its way to Braydon Coburn at the point. Coburn fired it on net but it was deflected high in the air where it dropped in between four players (two Capitals and two Lightning). Johnson tried to whack at the puck but it rolled towards Point instead. Point outmuscled Stephenson and fired it on net where it beat Holtby low on the short side. The remainder of the period was largely even between the two teams and for the first time all series, the Lightning entered the third with a lead (where they are 7-0 this postseason when leading).
There are only a few ways to properly explain the third period: nasty, fast paced, and panic inducing. At even strength, it was largely even during the early parts of the third period but Washington was clearly starting to press as the period progressed. An early penalty broke up the flow for both teams as Alex Killorn was sent to the box for interference. Tampa Bay’s penalty kill stepped up well on this attempt and neutralized Washington’s ability to generate many shots. Shortly after this man advantage, matching penalties to Stamkos and Eller saw both teams play at 4-on-4. It lasted 10 seconds as Michal Kempny was penalized for cross-checking Tyler Johnson for literally no reason. Quick rant on this; Kempny has already been fined once in this series for a dangerous cross check and this was just as stupid as the previous one. They were battling in front of the net, which is perfectly fine but for crying out loud what is with the cheap shot cross checking that Kempny continues to do? I’m not going to blame the entire Capitals roster for this even though Niskanen was warned for cross checking Kucherov (who was prone on the ice) by the officials but it’s getting a little ridiculous. I highly doubt he’ll be suspended for the play but another fine would be my guess. Who knows though...the NHL’s player safety department doesn’t make sense half the time. Also, for the record, the Stralman hit on Wilson was bad.
Once even strength play resumed, both teams played rather even with chances occurring in both ends. A high sticking penalty on Kuznetsov gave Tampa Bay a chance to get another insurance goal and close out the Capitals but the power play was largely ineffective. Washington had little trouble shutting down the Lightning’s fifth power-play of the game. As the period entered the latter half, Washington’s desperation level rose and the ice began to tilt in their favor. The Capitals surge forced the Lightning back as Kuznetsov and Ovechkin continued to carry the offensive load. Both players combined for 21 shots on goal—that’s ridiculous. With 3:20 left in regulation, Barry Trotz pulled Braden Holtby and Washington responded immediately with a Kuznetsov goal that was downright beautiful. T.J. Oshie who has been rather invisible in this series so far made a great cross zone pass to Kuznetsov who was at the goal line near the right boards. Kuznetsov then fired it past Vasilevskiy to make it 4-2 with 3:02 left in regulation. Seriously, this goal was stupid good; Kuznetsov only had one hole to score there and he hit it perfectly. There was nothing Vasilevskiy could do. Absolutely ridiculous goal.
Now, I’m going to succinctly describe the remaining three minutes of this game; OH MY SWEET JESUS CLEAR THE PUCK TAMPA BAY PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T LET OVECHKIN OR KUZNETSOV SCORE HERE!
Tampa Bay held on to take game three and now have a chance to even the series up on Thursday. If they can replicate this effort (especially the first half of the second period), then they could come back to Tampa Bay tied at 2.
Even Strength Offense
Before this evening’s game, Tampa Bay had scored 4 goals in this series. Three of those were on the power-play and the Lightning hadn’t scored an even strength goal since the third period of game one. Tonight, they scored two even strength goals which is a promising development. The power-play has clicked at a wonderful rate (5-for-12 in this series) so far. However, the Lightning’s inability to score at 5-on-5 has plagued them in this series, which is strange given that Tampa Bay was one of the best 5-on-5 teams this postseason. Sooner or later, the power-play’s torrid pace will cool off and if the 5-on-5 offense doesn’t improve moving forward, then the Lightning won’t survive this series.
It wasn’t always pretty but the Lightning shut down one of the deadliest power-plays in the league this evening. Though, I should correct myself: Vasilevskiy shut down one of the deadliest power-plays in the league. It’s that simple. Hopefully, Tampa Bay can continue to shut down Washington’s power-play (lol, ok) because the Capitals man advantage has been downright terrifying at times.
36 saves, shut down one of the deadliest power-plays in the league, and stopped too many dangerous chances to count. Vasilevskiy stepped up this evening when his team needed him. He’s been questioned time and time again by fans and media heads all season. He’s answered his critics every time. Yes, he hasn’t been as consistent as usual in this series but his track should speak for itself at this point. He’s a good goaltender in this league and will remain one for the foreseeable future. It’s all in from the Lightning on Vasilevskiy.
They limited the amount in this game compared to the previous two games but they were still prevalent and led to the Connolly goal (Palat has to make a better play on the puck at the blue line there). Kucherov had two ugly turnovers early in the first and it hampered Tampa Bay’s ability to cleanly exit their zone. This is another area where the Lightning need to clean up entering game four. Washington is going to feast on those.
Let’s hear what you all have to say!