Road teams con­tinue to rule in East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal, now tied at two apiece

Montreal Gazette - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS mtraikos@post­ twit­


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.

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