In a mixed bag of a game, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to defeat the Washington Capitals 3-2 in a shootout in the opening game of the round robin portion of this unique postseason. Despite coming out of the gate ready to play, the Bolts found themselves on their heels for the majority of the latter 30 minutes. There was lots to like, and some not to, but it was great to see meaningful hockey once again.
Stars being stars
The first five minutes were a feeling-out period for both sides. Scoring chances were slim, with the exception of a Carl Hagelin breakaway denied by Andrei Vasilevskiy. Not long after, the Lightning started to increase the pressure. Alex Killorn had a scoring chance blocked after Anthony Cirelli was able to interrupt a Washington breakout. Tampa’s first line spent a solid amount of time in the Washington zone and it would pay off. At 12:53 of the first, Brayden Point was able to steal the puck in the neutral zone. He skated across the line and dished the puck to Nikita Kucherov who ripped a snipe over the glove of Braden Holtby. With the 1-0 lead, the Lightning looked to continue the attack, but offsetting penalties and an interference call to Mikhail Sergachev gave the Capitals a 4-on-3 opportunity. Although they gave up some chances, the penalty killing unit did not break as the Bolts headed to the locker room with the advantage in much of the major categories including out-shooting the Caps 9-7. Some timely offense and the penalty kill turned out to be positives in this mixed bag.
Washington strikes back
From the outset of the second period, the physical play increased. Erik Cernak got tagged with a roughing call seconds in, but the PK held firm. Once again, the Lightning went to work on the forecheck. All four lines spent lots of time in the Washington zone while holding up the Caps in the neutral zone. The Bolts’ depth would add a tally when Mitchell Stephens redirected a chip pass from Pat Maroon underneath Holtby. With the Lightning, surging the Capitals were looking for something to swing the momentum in their favor. They got it in the form of a lucky bounce. A shot from the point hit off of Zack Bogosian and trickled its way under Vasilevskiy where former Bolt Richard Panik skated by and tapped it home, cutting Tampa Bay’s lead to 2-1.
Shortly after, Washington would get aid from another power play, which would define the remainder of regulation. The Lightning went the entire game without a power play opportunity. Then with under a minute to go in the second period, a shot bounced under the arm of Vasilevskiy and would land right on the goal line where Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to get a stick on it to tie the game 2-2. Tampa would never regain the momentum.
The negative side of the mixed bag? The Caps tilting the ice in the third period
Tampa Bay was back on their heels the entire third period. The Capitals were able to hold up the Lightning in the neutral zone and had great puck retrieval in the offensive zone. However, Vasilevskiy would hold strong, making an incredible sliding save to keep the game tied. As the period wore on, as physical play would continue. Scrums would continue and the game would finish with 89 hits between the two teams. This also looked to wear the Lightning down. They looked slower as the game went on helping contribute to Washington’s control of the third period. The Bolts looked better in overtime but were unable to seal the deal. The shootout, which opened with a goal from TJ Oshie, would see Kucherov and Point score back-to-back to give the Lightning the extra point in the skills competition.
The Lightning really dominated large segments of the game. They played great in the neutral zone, got to pucks first, and cashed in on their opportunities. They stood up to the physical play of the Capitals and did it smartly. However, conditioning, as with every team in the restart, will need some work. Learning how to regain momentum with no crowd will be crucial for a deep playoff run. They were unable to swing it back to their side after giving up the late second period goal. Overall, given it is only a round robin, you have to be pleased with the Bolts walking away with two points.
Star of the Game: Mitchell Stephens
Stephens took advantage of every opportunity he got today. He scored his first career playoff goal which turned out to be crucial. He was great on the forecheck and created a few chances offensively. More importanly, he was not a detriment defensively, and even won the most cruical face-off of the game all by himself. Hats off to the rookie. The Lightning return to action in the second game of the round robin when they take on the Boston Bruins at 4 pm on Wednesday afternoon.
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