The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Washington Capitals 5-4 in a wild overtime game. Andrei Vasilevskiy was unreal making 54 saves breaking the team record for saves in a game that he previously shared with Ben Bishop. Nikita Kucherov scored two goals bringing his point total to 119 and now sits on the verge of reaching another milestone.
The Caps were obviously the better team tonight. They dominated outside of a couple of short stretches. But that’s not how things ended up on the scoreboard. A dominant goalie performance and a deadly power play were enough to secure both points for the Bolts.
The Caps came out in the first looking to show that this game wouldn’t be a repeat of the last one. And they accomplished that. They got the first big scoring chance of the game when Nicklas Backstrom set up Michal Kempny in the slot. Vasilevskiy made the first big save of the period but it wouldn’t be the last.
The Lightning responded almost immediately with a breakaway for Anthony Cirelli. Ryan McDonagh hit him with a stretch pass but the rookie center couldn’t get the shot past Braden Holtby.
Tampa followed that with a shift that was a good microcosm of the period. The Stamkos line kept the puck in the offensive zone for an extended period of time. They cycled multiple times and stymied the Caps breakout passes. But for all that work, they couldn’t get a decent shot. Everything was from distance and most of the shots were blocked.
Washington opened the scoring 7:30 into the game when Lars Eller got in one on one with Vasilevskiy. The play started with a bad turnover by Alex Killorn at the Lightning blue line. Carl Hagelin recovered the puck and slid it up ice to Eller who didn’t hesitate with the shot.
The Bolts took the first penalty of the game just past the halfway mark in the period. Stamkos held Jakub Vrana behind the net in an unnecessarily sloppy play that put the dangerous Caps power play on the ice. The Lightning penalty kill did its job keeping them contained and not allowing any dangerous chances.
After the penalty, Tampa got back to controlling the puck but continued to struggle to make use of all the possession. Nikita Kucherov made a nice play in the offensive zone to set up McDonagh but the defender flubbed the shot and ultimately, it was an easy save for Holtby.
Evegeny Kuznetsov created the next great chance for the Caps as he made a sweet move in tight at the net but lost the puck at the last second. Vasilevskiy appeared to have the net covered anyway but it would have been close if Kuznetsov could have slid the puck in at the far post.
The Caps got their second power play with 3:30 left in the period after Jan Rutta took a tripping penalty on Brett Connolly. The Lightning penalty kill did its job again but taking penalties against a team like Washington is not a recipe for success, as they would learn in the second period.
Toward the end of the first, the Brayden Point line strung together a good shift. But again, they couldn’t find the final pass and shot. First, Kucherov fumbled a pass from Hedman that could have set him up for a good look from his spot in the right circle. Then, Kuch tried to feed a cross-ice pass to a wide open Tyler Johnson but the Caps deflected the puck away.
With thirty seconds left, Tom Wilson took a holding penalty on Victor Hedman. The Lightning weren’t able to generate much before the end of the period.
At the end of the first, Washington led in both shots and expected goals.
The second period was probably the wildest period of the season so far for the Lightning. So strap in. Because this is gonna take a while.
It started quickly with Kucherov scoring on the carry-over power play to tie the game. He scored from his usual spot but not in his usual way. This time, he made a nifty switch of his release point and snapped it far side past Holtby.
A little over a minute later, Alex Ovechkin took an elbowing penalty on McDonagh. The Lightning scored again immediately off the faceoff. JT Miller won it clean to Stamkos who skated a few strides into the slot and fired it past Holtby.
Attacking off the faceoff wasn’t something the Lightning had in their arsenal last season. But this year, they’ve shown several set plays. This wasn’t won of those but it was an example of having a clear plan to attack right off the win and it worked.
After the goal, the Bolts continued to control the game. The fourth line put in a great shift creating a couple of chances. But the third line was the next to score. Mathieu Joseph did most of the work stealing the puck on the forecheck and nearly scoring himself. That play created chaos around the net with Holtby getting way out of position. Cirelli collected the puck and bounced it into the net off John Carlson’s skate.
The Lightning continued to pressure after the goal. This time, Kucherov stole the puck on the forecheck and set up Point for a dangerous shot. He didn’t convert but at this point in the game, it looked like the Lightning might run away with it. That didn’t happen.
Ovechkin started the response for the Caps by creating a great chance for himself but Vasilevskiy made the save. Oshie followed that by putting a pretty move on Rutta and forcing Vasy to make another big save. As the period moved past the 10 minute mark, things started to swing back in favor of Washington.
All the Caps work eventually led to a goal with 9:30 left. It started with another poor decision by Alex Killorn leading to a turnover. This time, Eller collected the puck and fed it to Hagelin for a goal. Both Rutta and Killorn had a chance to break up the pass but couldn’t do so and it ended up in the net.
Following the goal, the caps continued to pour on the offense. Nick Jensen was the next player to break down the Lightning defense and skated in cleanly on Vasilevskiy forcing another big save. After that play, Sergachev took a slashing penalty.
This time, the Caps power play looked much more dangerous. They got set up in the zone and created multiple chances including a breakaway for Kuznetsov on a strech pass from Calrson. They eventually converted when Oshie collected his own rebound following an initial shot from Ovechkin. He flipped the puck up over Vasilevskiy and into the net to tie the game.
Just 20 seconds after the goal, Dmitry Orlov took a slashing penalty. Despite getting outplayed by a wide margin over the previous five minutes, the Lightning retook the lead on an unreal power play goal. Even if you normally skip the goal videos, watch this one. You owe it to yourself. Even if you watched the game live, watch it again. Seriously. Point to Ondrej Palat to Stamkos to Kucherov to the back of the net. Just wonderful stuff.
For all the fun hockey to this point in the game, things went completely off the rails in the final five minutes. It started with Cedric Paquette finishing a check on Kempny. Kempny didn’t like that and cross-checked Paquette up high leading to a scrum that would involve all ten players on the ice including a fight between Vrana and Yanni Gourde.
It took several minutes to get all the penalties sorted out and the Caps ended up with a two-minute power play after everything was settled. Gourde and Vrana got fighting majors. Oshie and Sergachev got roughing penalties. Kempny got a roughing penalty. And Paquette got roughing and cross checking.
But more importantly, Kempny suffered an injury after falling to the ice awkwardly with Paquette. He wasn’t able to put any weight on his leg and did not return for the third period.
When play finally resumed, the Caps power play looked good again. They threatened multiple times but the Lightning were able to survive behind some tough saves from Vasilevskiy.
Despite the push back early in the period, the Lightning trailed by a wide margin in both shots and expected goals at the end of the second period.
The rest of the game didn’t live up to the second period because really, how could it? But it certainly wasn’t boring. The Caps got another power play one minute into the period after Ovechkin drew a tripping call.
Again, the Washington power play looked dangerous. Oshie got a golden chance from the slot but couldn’t beat Vasilevskiy. At the very end of the two minutes, Tom Wilson got a great look at a wide open net but fired the puck over the frame and off the boards.
If I was the type of person to take joy in someone like Tom Wilson’s failure, I would have felt a happy flutter in my heart as that puck sailed wildly off course. But fortunately, I’m definitely not that kind of person. So I definitely did not laugh to myself about Tom Wilson feeling sad.
After that penalty, the game settled a bit. The best moment of the first ten minutes of the period for the Lightning was a strong shift from the Point line where they created a couple of good chances.
But as the period passed the halfway point, Washington started to pour it on again. Ovechkin got another clean look and had some net to hit but didn’t pick his spot well enough allowing Vasilevskiy to make the save.
Tyler Johnson got one of the Lightning’s few chances in the final ten minutes when Kucherov set him up for a good chance in the slot. But he couldn’t add to the lead.
A slashing call on Point gave the Caps yet another power play with just under ten minutes left in the period. And again, the power play threatened to score multiple times. Backstrom came closest. He had a rebound from an Ovechkin shot sitting at his feet with an open net. But he couldn’t corral it and the opportunity to tie went wasted.
The Lightning managed to survive the penalty kill but the Caps unleashed an endless stream of shots over the remainder of the game. Backstrom got another chance. This time, he was open in the slot but Vasilevskiy made the save.
With about five minutes left, the Lightning got their final chance to extend the lead. Kucherov recovered a loose puck int he offensive zone and found himself in a 2 on 0 with Johnson. Instead of passing, he chose to take the shot. Holtby came up big and kept the lead to one goal, which would prove to be important.
Washington pulled Holtby with under two minutes to go. Oshie got the first good chance but wasn’t able to finish. It looked like the Lightning would survive as the clock ticked away but Kuznetsov caught Vasilevskiy off guard with a bad angle shot and slid it through the five hole to tie the game with under a minute left.
Perhaps appropriately for a game defined by chaos, it would be settled in 3 on 3 overtime. At the end of the third period, the Caps had a monstrous lead in shots and expected goals.
The overtime period was a typical one. Both teams traded chances. Stamkos got a good one from the slot on the first shift. From there, both teams created on the rush and both goaltenders made saves.
The players seemed obviously fatigued and the speed slowed even on normal length shifts. The Lightning ultimately ended the game and secured the second point on a goal by Victor Hedman.
He skated in on the rush and appeared to be looking for the pass the whole way. But the Caps defended it well so he decided at the last minute to go forehand backhand and managed to beat Holtby.
This was not a strong performance for the Lightning. They were outplayed for most of the game. They had to rely on an unbelievable performance from their goaltender and a lethal power play to win this game.
Good teams find ways to win games and this is an example of that. But of all the ways to win, this is the least likely to be replicated. But even so, these are two big points.
The Lightning head to Carolina tomorrow. They will be tired after the intensity of this game and going into overtime. The Hurricanes are an excellent team that plays with lots of speed. Louis Domingue will likely need to follow Vasilevskiy’s performance with a heroic one of his own if the team is to win under those circumstances.
Tonight was win number 57 putting the team three away from 60 and five away from tying the all-time record. And for tonight, the two points are all that matters. Vasy was the star and for voters looking Vezina statement games, he certainly gave them one.