In a rather odd quirk to the NHL schedule, this evening saw last season’s Eastern Conference Finalists square off for the first time, in game 72 of the season. After an entertaining back and forth affair, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning who topped the Washington Capitals 6-3. Don’t get comfortable though, the Lightning and Capitals will square off two more times in the final ten games of the season. Alex Killorn scored his first career hat trick while Alex Ovechkin continued to climb the career goal scoring ladder. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 30 saves while Braden Holtby made 29 saves.
There was plenty of anticipation for this game since the last time these two teams met was in game seven of Eastern Conference Final. Tampa Bay looking for a small bit of revenge while the Capitals looking to impose their will like they normally do.
The opening period saw Tampa Bay dictate the pace and force the Capitals back into their zone. This was spearheaded by the Point line during the early moments of the game which caused Washington to take a few minutes to get settled in. Once Washington established some offensive pressure, it was the Lightning defense that managed to thwart much of the dangerous opportunities and cycle the puck out.
Another facet of Tampa Bay’s game was their neutral zone pressure and transition game. It came out to open the scoring at 8:35.
T.J. Oshie misplays the pass from Nicklas Backstrom and the Lightning pounce on it. Tyler Johnson feeds it to Nikita Kucherov who then makes a deft behind the back pass to Brayden Point along the right wing boards. At that point, it was a race between Point Johnson and Backstrom and Dmitri Orlov—the Lightning won as Johnson one-timer it past Braden Holtby to make it 1-0.
Tampa Bay’s forecheck continued to pressure Washington and 1:58 later they struck again.
Without Anthony Cirelli throwing a hit on Matt Niskanen, this entire sequence doesn’t happen. Luckily for Alex Killorn, the puck bounced off Orlov’s shin pad and past Holtby for a 2-0 lead. It’s preached throughout the hockey world, “throw pucks on net and good things will happen.” This was a prime example of that.
Washington would answer back 1:33 later.
An unlucky bounce for the Lightning here as Ondrej Palat has Evgeny Kuznetsov’s shot deflect off his shin pad and toward the point where John Carlson is waiting. Carlson put everything behind his shot and it whistled past Vasilevskiy to close the gap to one.
Both teams then had a bit of a seesaw battle before Killorn scored his second of the game.
Nick Jensen got embarrassed on this goal. First, great passing to exit the offensive zone. Second, Killorn almost deked around Jensen anyway. Third, Killorn straight bodied Jensen away from the play—it was like watching a midget player play against a bantam player. Add in that he recovered his own rebound and stuffed it in and it just makes this goal that much sweeter.
As the period drew to a close, both teams traded some penalties with the Lightning coming out with the advantage after Tom Wilson and Brett Connolly were penalized 12 seconds apart (this also neutralized a Washington power-play with Palat sitting for hi-sticking).
Tampa Bay’s abbreviated 5-on-3 saw one good chance occur and a mess of missed passes and poor decisions waste away their advantage. This would be the only real pressure the Lightning generated all period. Washington dictated the entire second frame even without the two power-plays they were given.
The first power-play came as a result of a bad call on Kucherov for interfering with Michal Kempny in the neutral zone.
Sure seems like Kempny initiates this. Kucherov to the box for interference. pic.twitter.com/nSTdz42SSr— ToughCall (@ToughCallBlog) March 17, 2019
I don’t know how this is a penalty, but to the officials this evening it was.
Ovechkin made sure to capitalize on this chance.
Another fortunate bounce for the Capitals. This time a point shot bounces off of T.J. Oshie and Ovechkin pounces on it before anyone else realizes where the puck is—including Vasilevskiy. This goal tied Ovechkin with Phil Esposito on the career power-play goal list at 264. Folks, we may not like him, but Ovechkin is easily among the greatest pure goal scorers (if not the greatest pure goal scorer) in NHL history. This was also his 47th goal on the season, something that he still leads the league in at 33 years old.
Washington continued to impose their will during the period, but Tampa Bay managed to stem the bleeding. They didn’t generate much offensively, but they did manage to disrupt the Capitals on several occasions in the defensive zone. That and the play of Vasilevskiy helped keep the score at 3-2 as the period ended.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay would enter the final period on the penalty kill after Ryan McDonagh took a poor penalty at the end of the second. Luckily, the Lightning managed to kill the penalty without too much trouble. Once play returned to 5v5, Tampa Bay reasserted themselves and struck once again to extend their lead.
Erik Cernak with the sneaky five-hole goal, folks—bask in its glory. Now, rightfully scream at the officials for missing the most blatant hi-stick you’ll ever see in the game of hockey. How they didn’t see J.T. Miller get a face full of carbon composite is beyond me, but at least the Lightning scored on this play. That makes up for it, but Steven Stamkos had a lengthy conversation with the officials after the goal and even held up the ensuing faceoff to discuss it with them.
Once play resumed, we saw both teams go back and forth at a frenetic pace. It was like both teams decided to ignore structure and just go at each other. Washington would control and get a chance, then Tampa Bay would. Tampa Bay would get a transition chance, then Washington would. It was beautiful to watch, but ultimately it was Washington who managed to convert in the ensuing back and forth Ovechkin scoring second of the game (and 48th on the season).
Oh look, another bounce that goes toward Ovechkin. He’s only the deadliest goal scorer in the league—let’s not cover him! In all seriousness, this is on Cernak for losing Ovechkin in front of the crease. He has him tied up, but puck watches for too long and Ovechkin just slides away from him. The puck bouncing off the boards like that sucks, but the greats always find ways to score goals, and Ovechkin is definitely a great.
The back and forth continued as regulation time waned. Though, once Washington pulled Holtby with just over two minutes to play it was Washington applying all of the pressure. Which makes the next goal all the more sweeter.
First, another crazy bounce that goes a completely different direction than anyone anticipated—thank god for Victor Hedman being right there. Second, look at how hard Kucherov hustles to not only beat the icing but keep the puck alive along the left wing boards.
“Kuch will always be looked at as an offensive player, but he doesn’t get enough credit when it’s needed on how to play defense,” is what Jon Cooper had to say after the game about Kucherov’s hustle on Killorn’s third goal. He hasn’t been as sterling this season defensively as previous years, but Kucherov is still a threat there.
As for Killorn, that’s a career first for him. First NHL hat-trick for a player who, for some reason, is derided by much of the fan-base. We can all laugh at the memes about Killorn falling every game, but he (and J.T. Miller to another extent) are the Swiss Army knives on this team. You can put them anywhere and they’ll get the job done.
“I thought he was, take the goals away, he was still one of the top players on the ice. How physical he was, how he wanted the puck. They played a bit against Ovechkin’s line a lot of the night and that’s what we’ve basically seen out of Killorn for most postseasons. Maybe not the three goals every time, but he definitely deserved them,” is what Jon Cooper had to say about the winger’s game this evening.
Yanni Gourde wanted in on the goal scoring action as well.
The metrics won’t be kind to Tampa Bay tonight, Washington controlled 54% of the shots at 5v5 (thanks mostly to a dominant second period), but this was a game the Lightning were in control of for most of the evening. They held on when Washington was surging and struck when their opportunities arose. An overall solid effort from the Lightning this evening.
Just two months ago, there was some concern over the Lightning’s offense drying up. They kicked that to the curb after a few games of not scoring more than three goals a game and have rarely looked back. There were some who were worried after the Minnesota loss, but this Lightning team has consistently bounced back after poor offensive performances. Defensively, they’ve been a bit more shaky (which should be cause for concern), but offensively this team just doesn’t quit.
Tom ******* Wilson
There are times when you see Tom Wilson play and you think, “he’s a good power forward”. Then he goes and does this and you just want to throw him out of the rink. Thankfully, Mikhail Sergachev did return to the game after this hit, but too often does Wilson go over the line. Sure, there will be defenders (god knows they always show up) screaming it was shoulder to shoulder, but fail to realize this is boarding (and won’t admit it because Tom Wilson is the hill they’ll die on).
Karma came back with Wilson being targeted with hits throughout the game by Mathieu Joseph, Cedric Paquette, and Adam Erne. The Joseph hit in particular was hilarious since Joseph is far smaller than Wilson yet he still managed to hit him hard enough to make him fall (and Wilson had time to push back on Joseph’s hit as well).
Wilson also got into a tussle with Erik Cernak near the end of regulation that saw both players receive game misconducts (which was too little too late in a game that featured a combined 56 hits between the teams).
Don’t take too much into this win (even though it secured the most wins the franchise has ever had). The biggest thing the Lightning need to do moving forward is to try and remain healthy (yes, I know Girardi and Stralman are still out currently) and clean up some of the defensive zone play. Soak the moment and then move on.