The Tampa Bay Lightning had a great response to losing the first two games in the Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals. They came to play in game three, played defense, and scored goals. Andrei Vasilevskiy was lights out and he was the difference in the game. Here are some of my thoughts from game three and what I think the Lightning can do better come game four.
Team defense was severely lacking in the first two games. Some of that was compounded by trailing for most of the first two games. The biggest problem was letting up way too many odd man rushes. When you do that against a team with so much firepower, you’re just asking for it and you’re leaving your goalie out to dry. The Lightning cut down on that. There were a handful of odd man rushes but it wasn’t at nearly the same rate as before.
Before score adjusting, the Capitals were the better possession team in the game. The first period was pretty even, the Capitals controlled the second period, and the Lightning made the third period. Despite being up 4-1 for the entirety of the third period with the Capitals pushing, the shot totals were even at 10-10 at even strength. Once you adjust that for score effects, it goes closer to 12-8 in the Lightning’s favor.
The Lightning were also more successful in this game at keeping the Capitals to the outside while getting into the slot themselves. Defending the middle is something both teams have done very well throughout the playoffs. The Capitals did it better on both defense and offense in the first two games and the Lightning flipped it around in game three. They need to keep doing that.
The team does need to play better possession hockey next game. They forced Vasilevskiy to make a lot of saves with 38 shots making it on goal while only getting 23 shots on goal themselves. They did beat Holtby on some great plays but they need to test him even further as the series continues in game four.
Missing The Net
One big problem that I noticed, especially early in the first period, was the inability to hit the net. The Lightning had good possession numbers but were still forcing Vasilevskiy to make more saves than Braden Holtby. After the first period, they had as many missed shots (10) as shots on goal.
Maybe it was just a sign of gripping the stick a little too hard early in the game but it’s something that needs to be adjusted. You have to get the puck on net to get a goal. Even if it’s saved, it potentially creates a rebound opportunity where a puck can find it’s way past the goaltender. They did get better at hitting the net after the first period with only seven more missed shots in the last two periods.
Vasilevskiy came up big in game three. He got peppered by shots from the Capitals and he came up with all but two of them. The first goal shouldn’t have counted as the linesman missed a clear icing on the zone entry. The Lightning also got a little too frantic and didn’t do a good job in clearing the puck. It got back to Brett Connolly for a one-timer and a great shot to beat Vasilevskiy. The only other goal scored came with Holtby on the bench and Evgeni Kuznetsov executing on a difficult shot from down low along the end line.
Vasilevskiy made 36 saves on 38 shots and saved 20 out of 21 shots on goal combined from Alex Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. They were peppering him all game and he was up to the task.
Kudos to the penalty kill. After struggling in the first two games, they went three-for-three in game three. Vasilevskiy was their best penalty killer though. The skaters in front of him need to further refine what they’re doing to cut down on the shots Vasilevskiy has to face on the penalty kill. They need to disrupt passes and win puck battles and get clears more consistently. They didn’t do that as well as they need to to call the penalty kill effort excellent. But it was better.
The power play continues to roll and put in two goals on five opportunities. The goals came from either side of the ice on one-timers from Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. It was good to see Kucherov shooting the puck more on the power play. Recently, he’s gotten too passive on the power play and trying to feed Stamkos on the other side too much. Teams haven’t respected his shot as much as they should because he hasn’t shot as much. On the first power play, he had two one-timers that were good shots. One went more to the middle of the net and got Holtby in the chest and one was low and Holtby got his pad on it. That helped to open up the other side for Stamkos’ goal to open the scoring.
Then on the second power play, Kucherov dialed in his accuracy and crushed one just inside the post. When both players are able to make that shot consistently from either side and are willing to take that shot whenever they can, it makes the power play a very scary thing. Also, kudos to Victor Hedman for setting up both of those one-timers with perfect passes into great spots for both players.