Tampa Bay Lightning playoff hockey is back! Well, at least to an extent. Today saw the Washington Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in both teams’ first round robin game of the resumed postseason. The Lightning survived a rally from the Capitals in the shootout to win 3-2.
It wasn’t the prettiest game from Tampa Bay at times, but there were great stretches of play that should be encouraging signs moving forward.
Overall, the opening period for both teams did not have a lot of electricity. Washington and Tampa had a bit of bite to their games, but neither team appeared to have a playoff mentality for this period. Most of the first period saw a back and forth flow that eventually led to the Lightning pinning the Capitals in their defensive zone after the first seven to eight minutes.
Washington’s only dangerous chance came on a partial breakaway by Carl Hagelin early in the period.
Once the Lightning were able to establish some consistent pressure they were able to force the Capitals into a few mistakes.
Washington’s first real mistake ended up costing them though.
Brayden Point is on a whole other level, folks. It might not seem that impressive at first glance, but he reads Lars Eller like a book on this flip pass and immediately weaves his way into the offensive zone before feeding it to Nikita Kucherov.
This is followed by Kucherov doing Kucherov things by firing a laser over Braden Holtby to give Tampa Bay their first postseason goal in the month of August (that is such a weird sentence to type). Also, I don’t know what Michal Kempny was doing here, but over committing to a stick check while off balance seems like a sure fire way to gift a player of Kucherov’s caliber a great chance and well...you all saw what happened.
For the remainder of the period the Lightning dictated the tempo for the most part. Washington didn’t see a lot of offensive zone time outside of a 4-on-3 power play after Mikhail Sergachev was called for interference at 14:58.
Statistically, Tampa Bay controlled 58% of the shot attempts at 5v5, but only generated 37% of the xGF. Washington managed to dominate in that area at 62%. If we take a look at the heat map we can see why.
Tampa Bay’s shot locations were of low quality while Washington’s were a bit better. Not that it meant the Lighting gave up a lot, they didn’t, but it does signify that without Kucherov’s snipe, Tampa Bay didn’t generate anything really dangerous in the offensive zone.
The Lightning entered this period looking to extend their lead and keep the Capitals at bay, and for seventeen minutes they did just that. However, Washington, as they do, decided to resort to questionable tactics to sway momentum. It’s what most teams do to the Lightning when they’re getting thoroughly outplayed, but it is up to Tampa Bay to restrain themselves in those situations.
For the majority of the period the Lightning dictated everything. They didn’t allow Washington to establish much of anything in the offensive zone and pinned them in their defensive zone repeatedly.
Tampa Bay’s pressure eventually paid off when the fourth line ground out a goal of their own.
Positioning and getting your stick on the ice. It’s a recipe that coaches pound into their players and it rings true here as Mitchell Stephens scores his first career “playoff” goal in his first career “playoff” game. He joins Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov as rookies to score in their playoff debuts.
Unfortunately, Washington began taking liberties after the Stephens goal. A clear late hit in center ice on Cedric Paquette went uncalled, followed by T.J. Oshie punching Yanni Gourde in the back of the head that eventually led to both players dropping the gloves. Later in the period, Washington’s nonsense led to one of the luckiest goals I’ve ever seen.
This is the definition of a fluke goal, but a goal nonetheless. All Tampa Bay needed to do was not let this goal create momentum.
That’s exactly what happened, however, as Washington began to pin the Lightning in their defensive zone and drew a soft holding call on Point. Then, as so often happens when a team that has been danced around all period does, they get another fortunate bounce.
As frustrating as this goal is, it is 100% on Vasilevskiy. There’s little reason a point shot from Dmitri Orlov should be took much to handle. Unfortunately, it is as the puck slips through Vasilevskiy and right toward Evgeny Kuznetsov (who had been completely invisible prior to this goal) for the tying goal.
What makes it even more frustrating is that Tampa Bay took Washington to the woodshed in this period. The Lightning controlled 54% of the shot attempts at 5v5, dominated the quality battle at 62%, controlled high danger chances 5-3, and repeatedly pinned the Capitals in their own end.
Oh, they also did this.
All they have to do is ignore the nonsense from Washington and continue to dictate the pace of the game.
The Lightning most definitely, did not do that in the third period. Washington controlled the pace for much of the final frame and the Lightning appeared to be buying their time. For what? I have no idea, but their transition game was stifled all period by Washington’s neutral zone shift, and the Bolts became overly reliant on dump and chase tactics to get into the Capitals zone.
Washington had a few opportunities to gain a lead, but Vasilevskiy stood tall in net after a shaky end to the second period.
It was close though.
Tampa Bay did come to life a bit near the end of regulation, but it was too little too late as time wound down.
Overall, through regulation Tampa Bay controlled 51% of the shot attempts at 5v5, lost the quality battle with a 46% xGF%, and lost the scoring chance battle 10-6. They looked like the better team for the majority of the first and second periods, but Washington dictated the third.
But, on the overtime.
Tampa Bay controlled the pace, but Washington got the opportunities in comparison. Ovechkin had an in-close chance, but the best one came from Jakub Vrana.
There was a late penalty on Kucherov for holding the stick, but the ensuing power-play did nothing as Mitchell Stephens won a defensive zone faceoff and cleared the zone.
TB - Hedman - SAVE 0-0
WSH - Oshie - GOAL 1-0
TB - Point - GOAL 1-1
WSH - Kuznetsov - SAVE 1-1
TB - Kucherov - GOAL 2-1
WSH - Backstrom - SAVE 2-1
Tampa Bay escapes this game in the shootout, after blowing a two-goal lead, but a win is a win, and they did show composure throughout by not collapsing once Washington surged back into the game. On to Boston later in the week, hopefully they’ll have a more complete game then.