BOLTS BATTLE BACK TO EVEN UP SERIES
Road teams continue to rule in Eastern Conference final, now tied at two apiece
TAMPA BAY 4, WASHINGTON 2
Finally, we had a game worth watching right to the end. And with it, a series that could go the distance.
Riding a Vezina-worthy performance from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Washington Capitals 4-2 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final.
It was the fourth straight game where the road team won, something that the Capitals hope continues with the series returning back to Tampa tied 2-2 for Game 5 on Saturday.
Prior to Game 4, the other games of the series hadn’t been close. Washington won the first two on the road by a combined score of 10-4, while Tampa Bay had relied on its star players to easily take Game 3.
On Thursday, both teams came to play. In particular, the goalies came to play.
For the first time in the series, the score was tied after two periods. For the first time in the series, the outcome wasn’t obvious until the final minute of play — although it should have been.
This was a game that Washington should have won. The Capitals were by far the better team, having more than doubled the Lightning in shots and having controlled possession for most of the game. What they had no control over, however, was the goalie at the other end of the ice.
Simply put, Vasilevskiy stole this one for his team. If he had been just good in a win in Game 3, he was outstanding in Game 4, stopping 34 of 36 shots and bailing out a team that at times had forgot how to play defence.
The game started just the way that the Capitals had scripted it.
Less than a minute after the opening faceoff, injured forward Nicklas Backstrom took the ice for his first shift of the Eastern Conference final and received a standing ovation. The Capitals, who had been without Backstrom for the previous four games, kept the crowd on its feet a few minutes later when Dmitri Orlov blasted a one-timer into the farright top corner.
And then, for whatever reason, Washington decided to kill the good vibes.
About a minute after going up 1-0, Washington defenceman Michal Kempny gifted Tampa Bay a goal when he attempted a no-look backhand pass up in the middle of the ice. Stealing the puck was Tyler Johnson, who converted a tick-tack-toe passing play with Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point — dubbed the “waterbugs” by head coach Jon Cooper — to tie the game.
Steven Stamkos then put the Lightning ahead 2-1 on yet another power play goal — his fourth of this series — after Lars Eller took a needless holding penalty.
It was as if the Capitals had forgotten what had given them success. Instead of staying within their system and making the simple play, they started became undisciplined and reckless.
A day earlier, Cooper had predicted that after three penaltyfilled games both teams would be far more disciplined. Then again, he also joked that in saying that, there would probably be a combined 15 power plays.
It wasn’t quite that bad. And yet, there were four penalties in the first period and another two in the second and third periods. But while the Lightning went 1-for-2 on the power play and scored the game-winner with Eller having just left the penalty box, the Capitals couldn’t take advantage of any of their four opportunities.
The team made up for it by dominating the five-on-five game. At times, it seemed the puck never left Tampa Bay’s blue-line. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 15-7 in the first period and held a 14-6 advantage in the second.
Down 2-1, Washington set the tone early in the second period when T.J. Oshie delivered a huge hit on Cedric Paquette. It sparked the crowd. And soon enough, the rest of the Capitals followed.
Washington tied the game when Alex Ovechkin flipped a pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who snuck behind the defence and slipped a shot through Vasilevskiy’s pads.
Based on the shot attempts, Washington should have had plenty more. The reason they didn’t was Vasilevskiy, who robbed Brett Connolly of a goal early in the third period that might have been as important as the eventual game-winner.
With 8:03 remaining in the period — seconds after the Capitals had done a wonderful job of killing a penalty — Alex Killorn gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead when he took a pass in front from Ondrej Palat and beat Braden Holtby with a backhand deke.
It was the kind of goal that could turn a series. Who knows, maybe it has.