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Lightning stumble in chippy affair against Capitals, 6-3

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Tampa Bay rarely did anything well this evening while the Cup champs did what they wanted.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

For all the pregame celebration for the Tampa Bay Lightning securing their first Presidents’ Trophy, the game that ensued showcased a team that appeared rusty from four days of rest. After winning the first two meetings between them, the Lightning dropped this evening’s tilt 6-3 to the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. Alexander Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and Nicklas Backstrom all scored twice for the Capitals with Ovechkin hitting 50 goals for the eighth time in his career. J.T. Miller, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov scored for the Lightning in the loss. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 29 saves while Braden Holtby stopped 25.

1st Period

Tampa Bay struggled off the first faceoff. Washington brought an aggressive forecheck to open the game which led to an early tripping penalty on Vasilevskiy. How Vasilevskiy is called for tripping by playing the puck and having a Capitals player run into him is bewildering, but the officials wanted to make their existence known this evening. The ensuing Capitals power-play was effectively killed off by the Lightning, but Washington continued to dictate the pace once play returned to even strength.

Washington’s pressure eventually broke through at 7:24 when Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring.

Everything is fine up until Cernak hesitates in his coverage. Cernak gave Backstrom far too much room in the slot and was nowhere near the right position to even attempt anything. It’s understandable to worry about Ovechkin on the other side, but letting a player like Backstrom have that much space is a recipe for disaster.

Tampa Bay tried to answer back, but a chance by Victor Hedman hit the post and a rush between Yanni Gourde and Alex Killorn saw a scoring chance go wide.

Then Washington added another moments later at 10:45.

Killorn has Oshie tied up for a moment, but then fails to follow through as Oshie battles through past him and Vasilevskiy to knock in a rebound. Poor positioning from Killorn bit the Lightning here. The sequence of events before this goal essentially encapsulate Tampa Bay’s period—sloppy in every aspect.

Washington continued to dictate the pace as the period continued whereas the Lightning struggled to navigate the neutral zone effectively. Then when Tampa Bay did manage to get some offensive pressure, Gourde was called for hi-sticking at 14:12. Live and on replay it appeared that Gourde didn’t make contact with Oshie’s helmet, but the officials thought otherwise. So, make that two questionable (at best) calls against the Lightning.

Of course, Washington would capitalize on it.

Sometimes the bounces don’t go your way. Oshie’s knee deflects the puck past Vasilevskiy and it’s 3-0 in one period. At this point hope shifts from winning the game to just making sure everyone stays healthy.

Nevermind. Hedman finished the period but would not return to the game after the first intermission.

2nd Period

The second saw a better effort from the Lightning but nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. Washington weathered a surge before striking at 7:53.

Puck watching yet again from the Lightning defense. No one pays attention to Backstrom sliding in front of the net before it’s too late. No excuse for something like this to happen—cover the front of the net.

Tampa Bay struggled to maintain any kind of consistent pressure as the period progressed. They were plagued by turnovers, poor passes, bad puck management, and lapses in judgement. A boarding penalty to Coburn at 9:31 was killed off with little worry and at 13:44 Washington was finally penalized for the first time all evening.

Tampa Bay’s ensuring power-play produced one threatening shot from Steven Stamkos and little else. Once play returned to 5v5, Washington resumed dictating the pace. Tampa did manage to respond on a fortunate bounce of their own at 17:25.

Fitting that Miller gets the goal here given that he was the main reason this play was even possible. His forecheck and puck retrieval along the left-wing boards enabled this to happen. The tip is a but fortunate on his end, but you take goals when you get them.

After the goal, the Lightning started to wake up. Their forecheck came alive and Ondrej Palat almost made it a two goal game moments after Miller scored. Unfortunately, the chance went wide. After 40 minutes, this game was still firmly in Washington’s control, but Tampa Bay showed signs of life.

3rd Period

Those signs of life were quickly nullified with Mikhail Sergachev sitting for hi-sticking just 47 seconds into the period. Tampa Bay managed to kill it off and produce some shorthanded pressure, but the momentum from Miller’s late goal in the previous period was wasted.

At least until Tyler Johnson had something to say about it at 3:36.

Nick Jensen sails to hold the blueline and Johnson is off to the races. With this goal, Johnson is now one shy of his career high (29) in a single season. At this juncture, it appeared the Lightning were on the verge of another comeback, but as the period progressed that hope faded away.

A level of chippiness began to creep into the game with multiple scrums breaking out after whistles. It wasn’t until Anthony Cirelli and Brooks Orpik fought at 9:26 that the tension broke. The fight started after Orpik took a swing at Cirelli for throwing a check on him. Cirelli wasn’t having it and stood his ground against the veteran defender. Orpik was penalized for roughing on top of his fighting major but the Lightning did little on the man advantage to tilt the ice in their favor.

Minutes later the tension boiled over again with Erik Cernak and Tom Wilson throwing the gloves off for a tussle. The two big men connected on a variety of punches, but it was Wilson who managed to be the last one standing after a punch landed on Cernak’s nose. Cernak left the game after the fight for repairs.

At the post game presser, Jon Cooper mentioned he had little worry about Cernak moving forward (he did not provide an update on Hedman).

With the game slowing down into a scrum fest, Washington began to regain some footing. This led to one of the greatest goal scorers of all time deciding it was time for him to make some noise.

Braydon Coburn caught puck watching yet again. The initial coverage on the rush attempt by Washington was fine, but watch Coburn’s face—he never looks away from the puck to gauge where Ovechkin is on the ice. The fact Ovechkin barrels him over magnifies it even more. That was what the Lightning were tonight—sloppy and uncharacteristically lackadaisical in their coverage.

As for Ovechkin? Make that eight seasons with 50 or more goals. You’re watching a legend, folks. He’s a first ballot hall of famer and he has an outside shot to eventually catch Wayne Gretzky’s all time goal record. Hockey players aren’t supposed to score goals like this at age 32. What Ovechkin is doing is ridiculous.

The misery for Tampa Bay didn’t end there though. With Kucherov sitting for tripping, Ovechkin decided 50 goals just wasn’t enough for him so he added another.

Multiple failed attempts to clear the zone will eventually come back to haunt a team. Ovechkin blasts this one home to notch his 51st goal of the year and tie Luc Robitaille on the power-play goals list. This was challenged by Tampa Bay for goaltender interference, but the goal was upheld due to Backstrom making contact with Vasilevskiy outside of the crease. I’ve stopped trying to understand what does and does not constitute goaltender interference with how the NHL interprets/misinterprets their own rulebook.

A late hooking penalty on Nic Dowd gave Tampa Bay a late power-play to try and dress up the score. Nikita Kucherov did just that with his 39th goal on the season.

Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make it pretty.

The Good

Pregame

Watching the pregame ceremony for the Presidents’ Trophy and the silver stick being awarded to Steven Stamkos was great, and the only real highlight of the night. There will be a bushel of people decrying about the superstitious nonsense of touching trophies and what-not. I couldn’t care less and from the way Stamkos reacted on the ice, he doesn’t either. The montages shown were fantastic and the overall display was succinct. It’s unfortunate that the Lightning just didn’t play a good game this evening.

The Bad

Lots of Rest, but Lots of Rust

When asked if the prolonged break this week affected their game negatively, Jon Cooper had this to say,

“We had our chances...I don’t think we’ve had a break, besides the All-Star break, or the five day break, whatever that was. This was our longest break of the season. You don’t get these too often, so we gave the guys a couple days off. It was clear it took us a little bit to get going. After that we were fine, we had plenty of chances. For me though, the last few games here we’re giving up too much. That’s gotta get better in our game. We ended up losing this game, but by no means did it need to be six against us. The penalties we’re taking, just keep putting the team on the power-play. We just gotta be more disciplined in that way.

Hard to disagree with him here.

The Whatever

Let’s hear what you have to say! (Let’s all pray for Victor Hedman to be ok)