A desperate Washington Capitals team took the Tampa Bay Lightning to the woodshed this evening as they crushed the Lightning 3-0 to secure a winner-take-all game seven back in Tampa on Wednesday night.
Frenetic is the only appropriate word to describe the first period between Tampa Bay and Washington. Both teams took turns controlling play and forcing the other into dangerous situations. But time and time again, it was Braden Holtby or Andrei Vasilevskiy stepping up to thwart a scoring chance.
There was a Michal Kempny shot that Vasilevskiy stopped, a Tyler Johnson snap shot that Holtby pushed aside, a Steven Stamkos cross-zone pass to Nikita Kucherov that was just inches off the latter’s stick, a strong cycle shift by the Anthony Cirelli line, and a terrifying shift by the Alex Ovechkin line that saw Vasilevskiy stop two in-close chances (one from Ovechkin from the slot). And that was only the first half of the period.
Washington’s desperation was evident as the period progressed but Tampa Bay wasn’t sitting back and making life easy for the Capitals. Washington generated some dangerous chances but the Lightning came right back at them numerous times with terrifying shifts and shots that were either blocked, missed, or stopped by Holtby.
The chippiness was evident as well with Tom Wilson, Dan Girardi, and J.T. Miller laying hits on whomever was around them. Wilson leveled Paquette early in the period, which should’ve been a penalty. Miller engaged in a poorly timed fight against Brooks Orpik after a hit behind the Washington net. The fight neutralized a Brayden Point breakaway and Miller didn’t play the remaining four minutes of the period. Girardi leveled Ovechkin off a faceoff late in the period and, in all honestly, should’ve received a penalty.
Washington applied a massive amount of pressure during the final minute of the first period as the Ovechkin line generated another dangerous chance that was thwarted by Vasilevskiy yet again. There isn’t much else to breakdown, honestly. This period was evenly played and featured a lot of back and forth that was beyond entertaining.
The early part of the second saw Tampa Bay control play a bit more than Washington. The pressure forced a hooking penalty on Jay Beagle and gave the Lightning a chance to capitalize with their deadly power play. Unfortunately, outside of a Stamkos one-timer that Holtby saved and a Mikhail Sergachev shot that was deflected wide of the net, the power play was unable to threaten Washington much.
This was due to the Capitals limiting Tampa Bay’s ability to enter the offensive zone by creating layers of players for Lightning to skate through. Tampa Bay adjusted by using their trademark back pass to alleviate the pressure but it worked only sparingly during the man advantage.
Once play returned to even strength, the game started to become more open. Andre Burakovsky pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and raced towards Vasilevskiy. As Burakovsky closed in, Ryan McDonagh tried to stick check the puck away but was unable to reach it before Burakovsky fired it on net. The shot sailed high before Tampa Bay recovered it and exited the zone.
The Lightning came right back after this chance with a 2-on-1 (with Washington having six skaters on the ice) that saw Anthony Cirelli shoot off his backhand that was saved by Holtby’s skate toe. This was the last time Tampa Bay had any semblance of control before Braydon Coburn took a hooking penalty.
Washington’s lethal power-play came onto the ice and went to work against a Lightning penalty kill that…well it’s below 80% for a reason. Washington went to work cycling the puck along the right side before cycling it to Ovechkin’s office. Ovechkin fired it on net but didn’t get as much of it as he would’ve liked, and the shot was swallowed by Vasilevskiy.
At this point, it looked as though Vasilevskiy was going to carry the Lightning penalty kill to success once more—yea, no. Washington decided to feed the puck to T.J. Oshie instead and the winger converted 1:23 into the power-play. I could break this down, but honestly, Backstrom makes a great pass and Oshie crushes this puck. Not much else to say.
The remainder of the second saw Washington take control of the period with the Lightning surging in small pockets. Tampa Bay only mustered two dangerous chances for the remainder of the period: Stamkos fired a shot that deflected twice before Holtby saved it and Kucherov rung a shot off the post with three seconds left in the period. Aside from that, Washington took control and rarely let go of it. Would the Lightning manage to break through Washington’s defense and Braden Holtby in the third?
In short, no.
Tampa Bay struggled throughout the third period as they failed to connect on routine passes, made poor decisions with the puck in all three zones (the turnovers they gifted Washington near the defensive blueline were horrendous), and failed to get many shots on Holtby.
A quick note on this: Tampa Bay really struggled to hit the net this evening. Washington did a phenomenal job blocking shots but the Lightning missed the net 15 times this evening. They also had 20 shots blocked but Washington blocking shots is nothing new. Conversely, the Lightning did have some chances in the third,but when Washington’s defense faltered, Braden Holtby held down the fort.
It wasn’t entirely doom and gloom for the first half of the third but a goal at the midway point of the third by Devante Smith-Pelly proved to be the backbreaker. Smith-Pelly started the play below his own goal line. He recovered the puck after winning a battle against Brayden Point and threw it down the ice. Braydon Coburn and Chandler Stephenson raced after the puck and initially everyone thought it was going to be an icing.
Instead, the official waived the icing off since the puck slowed down enough for Coburn to touch it prior to crossing the goal line. It’s a close call and at first I was curious why they waived it off. But after watching the replay a bit, I can see why. It’s a judgement call at that point and one that you can argue either way. Nonetheless, that’s the call the official made.
Coburn pushed the puck toward the right-side boards where Jay Beagle was waiting for it. Beagle sent the puck back below the Lightning goal line where Stephenson recovered it. Just like Ondrej Palat did in Game four, Stephenson made a blind backhand pass to the slot where Smith-Pelly was waiting. Smith-Pelly one-timed it through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole to make it 2-0 Washington. As I mentioned before, this goal was the back breaker. The backcheck by the Lightning on this was poor and you could see the Lightning players on the bench sag as Washington scored.
The remainder of the period was a slopfest for the Lightning. Turnovers, poor passes, losing puck battles, being pushed around. You name it and Tampa Bay did just about everything wrong after the Smith-Pelly goal. Oshie scored on an empty net to make it 3-0 and secured a do-or-die game seven in Tampa on Wednesday.
The Lightning weren’t engaged after the first 30 minutes of this game. Once Washington took the lead it was a downhill slope toward ugly and even Cooper mentioned during his post-game presser than they were “no good” this evening. If there is a silver lining for Tampa Bay, it’s they have consistently bounced back from bad losses. They also have home-ice for game seven, which is the biggest reason why a team wants home-ice in the playoffs.
The only player who appeared to be engaged from start to finish in this game. Washington came at the Lightning hard and heavy and Vasilevskiy stood tall repeatedly to keep Tampa Bay in the game. Without him, this game is a 5-0 romp that isn’t even worth mentioning. It’s aggravating that Vasilevskiy played well enough to win but was essentially left on an island by his team this evening. If Tampa Bay expects to win by Vasilevskiy standing on his head every night, they’re doomed to failed.
As I previously mentioned, the Lightning looked disengaged tonight. Passes were off, shots were wide, and there wasn’t a visible response when Washington was literally running over every player wearing white. It was just a poor performance by the team. Combine that with some horrendous turnovers and you have a recipe for getting crushed. The Lightning can’t be this disengaged in game seven or they’ll be sitting on the beach drinking mimosas as Washington takes on Vegas for the Stanley Cup.
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