The Lightning has all the answers in Game 4 to tie the series: Vasilevskiy? Beast. 2-0 deficit? Gone. Home ice? Back.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos celebrates his power play goal in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final against the Washington Capitals. Tampa Bay also got pivotal performances from center Alex Killorn, who scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who saved 36 shots. The victory ties the series at 2-2 with the road team winning every game so far.
WASHINGTON — And just like that, we’re back to all square.
Wow, this Lightning team is something. Never dead. Never done.
Just a couple of days ago, Tampa Bay was hanging over the edge of the cliff, barely hanging on with a couple of fingertips. As we cued up the dramatic music and waited for the long fall to the crashing waves below, the Lightning did what it usually does in such bleak situations.
Like some hockey version of Indiana Jones, the Lightning triumphantly pulled its way back to safety and is now eagerly in search of hockey’s holiest grail.
The Lightning beat the Capitals 4-2 in Thursday night’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final. That wrapped up back-to-back victories in the nation’s capital to even the best-of-seven series at two games each.
Are you surprised?
Now it’s a best of three, with the Lighting back to having home-ice advantage, starting with Game 5 on Saturday night at Amalie Arena.
Here’s the thing: The Lightning had absolutely no business winning this game.
“We’re happy the victory. It doesn’t matter how we get it,’’ defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We tied it up 2-2, and that was our goal coming into this. We wanted to win both games (in Washing-
ton), and we did that.’’
The only reason the Lightning won Game 4 was because of an absolutely ridiculous performance by goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“Wow, unbelievable,’’ Hedman said. “What can you say?’’
You can say that Vasilevskiy absolutely stole a game for the Lightning. Sometimes that’s what it takes to win a Stanley Cup. You need a goalie to steal a game.
Tampa Bay was outshot 3820 but pulled out the victory because the big Russian goalie stopped nearly everything thrown at him.
“Right from the start, we knew (he was on),’’ forward Alex Killorn said. “‘Vasy’ saved us in that second period when they were kind of coming at us. He did a great job keeping us in it.’’
At one point, the Lightning went 21 minutes without a shot. Through two periods, the Lightning was being outshot 29-13. The score should have been 10-2 Capitals. Yet it was tied 2-2.
“When you get this far in the playoffs, you’re playing good teams and there are going to be nights like this,’’ Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.
“Nights like this” means winning a game you should lose. But winning because the goalie is incredible.
“He always gives us a chance,’’ Stamkos said.
None of this — from Vasilevskiy’s performance to the Lightning winning — should come as any great surprise. This is what the Lightning has done in recent postseason history. It backs itself into a corner, losing games you never think it will lose, only to crawl out of danger.
Then it wins games just as unexpectedly. Well, scratch that. It’s almost expected at this point.
Like this series. The Lightning lost the first two games at home. Neither game looked even a little bit competitive. Vasilevskiy looked leaky. The Lightning at even strength looked shorthanded. Everything that could have gone wrong pretty much did. All that was left was for the Lightning to turn on its blinker and turn off at the next exit.
But then it showed up in Washington like a brand new team.
The turnaround starts with Vasilevskiy, who has been nothing but brilliant since the series shifted locations.
Meantime, the rest of the Lightning’s best players — names such as Stamkos, Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point — have continued to be the Lightning’s best players. Stamkos and Point had first-period goals as Tampa Bay overcame an early 1-0 deficit.
Then, someone always comes through when the Lightning needs it. That someone Thursday was Killorn. His goal with 8:03 left in the third period broke a 2-2 tie and was the winner. Tony Cirelli added an empty-netter to cap an improbable victory.
So now the Lightning returns home with the series tied at 2. It won a game. It stole a game. Call it whatever you want.
Just don’t be surprised by it. It’s what the Lightning does.
The Lightning’s Alex Killorn, front, celebrates with teammate Ondrej Palat after scoring the eventual winning goal with 8:03 remaining in the third period.
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy keeps his eye on the puck, something he did often during Game 4, finishing with 36 saves.
The Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly (25) shoves the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat into Matt Niskanen during Game 4.
The Capitals’ Brooks Orpik goes airborne to knock down the puck during the second period.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stops a shot by Nicklas Backstrom, who returns after missing four games with a hand injury.