There may not have been a more satisfying win for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season than their 6-3 defeat of the Washington Capitals last week, considering the Bolts were ousted by Ovechkin and company in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Whether they admit it or not, picking up the W in that first meeting meant something.
Steven Stamkos told reporters game six was “one of the best games I’ve seen a team play against us.” “They just wanted it a little more than we did.” That feeling of defeat after elimination in seven from last year’s playoffs is a taste fresh in the Bolts’ mouths.
Capitals forward Jakub Vrana didn’t downplay the newfound rivalry ahead of this one after losing Saturday. He compared the matchup to “a little bit of war.” In that sense, the Lightning would need all their weapons on the battlefield Wednesday, in what turned out to be one of the most entertaining NHL games this season.
The opening minutes were wild. Both teams had a quality scoring chance. Michal Kempny was able to walk right down the middle for a good look on Andrei Vasilevskiy, before Braden Holtby stoned Anthony Cirelli seconds later. Ryan McDonagh made a fantastic pass to spring Cirelli on the breakaway. It remained scoreless after a terrific chance apiece.
The speed of the game was evident from the opening face off. That tempo got the better of the Lightning when they turned the puck over. Coughing it up in such a fast paced game will cost you. Alex Killorn learned that lesson very quickly. He gave it away to Evgeny Kuznetsov. Lars Eller. Back of the net above Vasilevskiy. Just like that it was 1-0 Caps.
The Lightning were rolled over in the shot on goal category in the opening twenty. Washington had 15 shots to Tampa Bay’s five. Granted, the Caps had two power plays, but both came by virtue of Tampa Bay running around in their own end and taking penalties.
The penalty kill was strong, and Vasilevskiy was solid as ever, or the first period could’ve been much worse. The Lightning escaped the period down a goal, but didn’t necessarily find their stride until late in the frame, when they began to evade checks and create chances by distributing well.
That led to a Bolts power play at the conclusion of the first, within which they overpassed as the buzzer sounded. A tough ending, but a decent turnaround to an overall ugly period.
Carrying it Over
The Lightning had 1:24 of power play time to work with as the second period began. They took advantage, carrying over the momentum they had built in the first and taking full advantage.
Who else but Nikita Kucherov to finish it off? A much more evident shot-first mentality to start the second on the power play and eventually the league’s leading scorer was left wide open at the side of the net and ripped it home far-side.
The Bolts’ second power play needed just four seconds. JT Miller won the draw, Stamkos buried it. Simple as that. He got a slight break on a deflection off a Washington stick, and Holtby didn’t stand a chance.
Hard Work Pays Off
Mathieu Joseph made an incredible individual effort, dancing to the net and getting it to the front while falling to his back. It hit the crossbar, but in a strange sequence Anthony Cirelli thew it to the net and it deflected off the skate of John Carlson and in. Ultimately, the Lightning’s third line wouldn’t go away, and got a lucky bounce. The Lightning would take the luck of the Irish just days after St. Patty’s, and a 3-1 lead.
After an absolute explosion of offense from Tampa Bay to start the middle period, Washington answered. Killorn was victimized for the second time on an arguably worse turnover. At the end of a long shift, Killorn circled back into the Lightning end from the neutral zone with a chance to get it deep. Instead he coughed it up and Carl Hagelin finished off the play for the Caps nearly instantly.
Moments later, the Bolts tested their luck on the penalty kill for the second time. Much like the Lightning man advantage unit, it’s not smart to play with fire with this power play group, and the second time around the Lightning got burned.
This Capitals power play was absolutely electrifying, and after nearly two minutes of inescapable pressure, TJ Oshie hopped on a rebound to tie the game. Nearly as quickly as Tampa Bay had built a two goal lead, they watched it disappear.
You Can Essentially Only Contain Him
Every team game-plans to stop Nikita Kucherov, and yet there he was picking up point number 119 with his second of the night, and this one was absolutely ridiculous. The puck movement was quicker than the eye could see, and Kucherov got low and immediately elevated an absolute snipe to give Tampa Bay the lead again. Tic tac toe.
Again, the Bolts came through on the man advantage.
Bend, Bend, Bend, and Finally Break
The third period, like the second, was very much controlled by Washington. While they only outshot the Bolts 19-10, there were flurries of action where Vasilevskiy was on his head. He shut down Alexander Ovechkin countless times down the stretch and weathered an incredible storm of chances en route to a 54 save performance.
Eventually however, with the goalie pulled, Washington’s dominance became too much to handle and Evgeny Kuznetsov found a hole to beat Vasilevskiy with 52 seconds to play.
This one was a lot of fun, so it’s no surprise it needed overtime.
Patience is a Virtue
It was Victor Hedman who put an end to an absolute marathon of a second instillment Eastern Conference Finals rematch. He played Alexander Ovechkin perfectly on a 2-on-1, and was fortunate enough to see Ovechkin lose his footing.
Hedman raced back the other way, and the rest was R-rated. He held, held and held, forgoing the pass on an odd man rush and undressing Braden Holtby.
Andrei Vasilevskiy smashed another record en-route to a performance that has to have him in the Vezina conversation if he wasn’t already. 54 saves. That’s a single-game Lightning record. Many of them were absolute dandies. The shots ended up 58-28 for Washington. The Bolts won. 5-4. One of the most exciting Lightning games thus far, and, according to script, another night, another record, and an incredible Tampa Bay win.
Our Three Stars of the Game
- Andrei Vasilevskiy: 54 saves: New franchise record. Enough said.
- Nikita Kucherov: 2 goals: Multiple cracks at the hat trick. An incredible night for a player who just won’t stop scoring.
- Steven Stamkos: 1 goal, 2 assists: Stamkos was all over the ice and the scoresheet in this one, creating open space all evening long, especially on the power play.
The Lightning are in a back to back scenario, as they head to Raleigh to take on the red hot Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night. Puck drop is 7 PM ET.
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