On the heels of suffering their first shutout loss of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning sought to redeem themselves after their 3-0 defeat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. With a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, the histories of both the Lightning and Washington Capitals in Game 7’s couldn’t be ignored. The Lightning entered this game holding a 5-2 all-time record in Game 7. The Caps were 4-11.
In the end, those records didn’t matter. The past didn’t matter. The Capitals have spent the better part of this postseason obliterating the underachieving mystique that dogged them for years. They continued to put that narrative to rest in this series, and in Game 7, they delivered when it mattered the most. On the other side, the Lightning’s high-powered offense dried up when it mattered the most. As a result, the Bolts head into the offseason searching for answers while the Capitals will play for the Stanley Cup.
Andre Burakovsky scored a pair of goals, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom also scored, and Braden Holtby stopped 29 shots in posting his second straight shutout as the Caps blanked the Lightning 4-0 at Amalie Arena in Game 7. As a result, the Lightning’s season ends in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in three years, while the Capitals will take on the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final. Game 1 of that series starts Monday night at 8 pm EST time at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 19 saves for Tampa Bay, who went without a goal for the final 159:27 of the series. Their final goal of the season was scored by Ryan Callahan 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5.
Early on, the Capitals picked up where they left off in Game 6.
Ovechkin only needed 1:02 after the opening faceoff to rip a one-timer past Vasilevskiy, putting the Caps up 1-0 with his 12th of the playoffs. Upon further review, it was a goal that Vasilevskiy probably wanted back. Only 57 seconds later, Brayden Point went to the box for holding the stick. However, the Lightning’s penalty kill held strong at a time when things could have deteriorated for them. Both teams controlled play for fairly long stretches, with each side generating quality looks.
One of the Caps’ best chances occurred when Vasilevskiy robbed Ovechkin at the side of the crease. On the other side one of Tampa Bay’s best chances came when Nikita Kucherov fed it in front to an open Alex Killorn, only to see Holtby rob him with a tremendous glove save. Anthony Cirelli had an open net on a rebound shot, but the puck bounced to his off-hand side and he wasn’t in position to knock it home.
With about five minutes left, a scrum by the Tampa Bay net saw Braydon Coburn rip off Evgeni Kuznetsov’s jersey, prompting Tom Wilson to go after Coburn. While being restrained by a linesman, Wilson attempted to shake him off to get at Coburn, leading to both players earning unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
The beautiful game pic.twitter.com/nQEaT5wAEc
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 24, 2018
After leaving the box, the two then dropped the gloves and actually fought each other in a spirited fight that brought back memories of old time hockey.
While the Lightning had their share of looks, they also gave the Capitals too much room through the neutral zone and over their blue line. The Lightning had a 10-9 edge in shots in a period in which they got better and settled down after the Ovechkin goal.
Tampa Bay carried over their positive momentum from the opening period, continuing to control play in the second.
The Lightning kept the Capitals pinned into their own zone for much of the first several minutes of the middle period. Kucherov and Killorn each created a pair of quality chances. However, a missed opportunity by Yanni Gourde left the crowd at Amalie Arena wondering how the game didn’t end up tied 1-1.
It does not get much closer than this. pic.twitter.com/QUfvzOTGam
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) May 24, 2018
Hedman took a pass and got Holtby out of position before slipping the puck in front. Gourde was in the crease, but the puck was skittering around and he couldn’t get his stick on it. Either Christian Djoos or Brooks Orpik may have gotten just enough of Gourde’s stick to keep him from scoring. Either way you slice it, the game remained 1-0 and the Lightning were left dumbfounded. That play turned out to be costly just a few minutes later:
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) May 24, 2018
A giveaway by Dan Girardi led to Andre Burakovsky scoring his first goal of the playoffs at the 8:59 mark, increasing the Caps’ lead to 2-0. That goal took the wind out of the Lightning’s sails, as the Caps slowly began taking the game over. This was a game where the puck simply wasn’t bouncing Tampa Bay’s way, and when it did, Holtby was there to make a big save. After the second Capitals goal, Tampa Bay began to press, feeling the desperation of a two-goal deficit. In turn, this led to more chances for Washington, and eventually, a third goal.
Ondrej Palat lost control of the puck in the Capitals’ zone as Coburn was going off for a line change. John Carlson banked a pass off the boards, and because Ryan McDonagh hadn’t hit the ice yet, Burakovsky found himself on a breakaway. He made no hesitation in burying the shot, making it 3-0 at the 16:31 mark.
Faced with a 3-0 deficit after two periods, the Lightning finish like their season was on the line.
After controlling play for stretches of the first two periods, the Lightning appeared deflated in the final 20 minutes. It took them 11 minutes to register their first shot on goal of the final period. That period of time included their first power play of the game, in which they created nothing of consequence. At the end of the day, their inability to find the back of the net over the course of the final two-and-a-half games turned out to be their downfall. Backstrom’s empty net goal sealed it, and this game was in the bag for Washignton.
The only question at this point is what changes, if any, occur during the offseason. While this season was the best the Lightning have ever posted in terms of wins, points, and offense, it’s not the way anyone envisioned Tampa Bay’s season ending. Especially after blowing a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in three seasons.
-This is the first Game 7 in Lightning history in which either any team involved scored more than two goals.
-This was the 33rd Game 7 in NHL history with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final at stake. It was only the 12th time the road team has won. It also marked the first time the Lightning have ever lost a Game 7 at home.
-This was the first game in which the Lightning out-shot the Capitals in this series.
-The Lightning are now 14-9 all-time with a chance to clinch a series.
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Braden Holtby – Made 29 saves for his second consecutive shutout in the series.
2nd Star: Andre Burakovsky – Two goals
3rd Star: Alex Ovechkin – Scored the game’s first goal.
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