Stanley Cup Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning collapse under pressure from Capitals

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning collapsed under the sheer pressure applied by the Washington Capitals and fell 6-2 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a lot to prove coming into tonight’s Game 2 matchup against the Washington Capitals. The Lightning surged late in Game 1, but it ended up being a classic case of “too little, too late” and the Capitals delivered a disappointing 4-2 loss to the Bolts.

If the Lightning had any hopes of seizing control of the series momentum before heading to the Nation’s Capital for Games 3 and 4, they would have to be strong on the forecheck, aggressive with the puck, and do everything within their power to stay out of the penalty box.

Unfortunately, the Lightning didn’t exactly give the fans the start of the game they were hoping. It took a whole 28 seconds into the game for the Capitals to take the lead with a goal from forward Tom Wilson. This was Wilson’s third goal of the postseason.

Most people recognize the same Tom Wilson after being suspended for three games for a hit against Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Zach Aston-Reese which left the latter with a broken jaw. Let’s hope he decides to keep that sort of play in the past and doesn’t try this on any member of the Lightning.

The Lightning got a bit of a break shortly after the six-minute mark in the game. Wilson was sent to the sin bin for two minutes for Goaltender Interference after colliding with Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. Funny enough, Wilson could be heard protesting, “I didn’t even hit him.” Vasy’s face says otherwise as your rear end collided with it, Mr. Wilson.

The Bolts would use this opportunity to tie the game with a goal from forward Brayden Point. This would serve as Point’s fifth goal of the postseason with the assists going to Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman.

The Lightning would get another crack at the man advantage just past the eight-minute mark in the period. As Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman was popped in the face by a puck he was attempting to bring down with his glove, Capitals forward T.J. Oshie would make contact with Hedman’s hand with his stick, giving the Bolts the Power Play.

There are many people (mostly Capitals fans) who would dispute the penalty to Oshie. Well, here’s the official rule.

"60.2 Minor Penalty – Any contact made by a stick on an opponent above the shoulders is prohibited and a minor penalty shall be imposed."

As you can see in the tweet below, Hedman’s hand was clearly above his shoulder. Therefore, a penalty should have been called on the play, as it was. It isn’t rocket science.

We will give the Capitals fans this; there is a pretty good chance the Lightning could’ve been called for Hooking on the play. It would’ve been a soft call, at best, but there indeed could’ve been a call. Fortunately for the Tampa Bay Lightning, this was not the case. The Bolts would get the Power Play.

The Lightning’s Power Play seemed to be firing on all cylinders tonight. Seconds before the penalty to Oshie was set to expire, Steven Stamkos would fire off the puck and beat Capitals netminder Braden Holtby to tie the game for the Bolts. Assists on the Stamkos goal would go to Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.

One thing which can definitely be said about the first 20 minutes of play is the Lightning was skating much better than they did in the first 20 minutes of Game 1. They were faster and more precise with their movements, more aggressive with the puck, and skated with real purpose.

When the buzzer sounded to end the period, the Lightning would lead the Capitals 2-1. Unlike the results from the end of the first period in Game 1, the Bolts outshot the Capitals 10-13. Where the Lightning truly dominated was the faceoff circle. The Bolts controlled this particular area 36-64 through the first 20.

Regrettably, the second period would start much like the first. Under three minutes into the period, the Capitals would tie the game with a goal from forward Devante Smith-Pelly. The second-period goal would be the third of the postseason for Smith-Pelly.

Things would start to heat up between these two teams shortly after the six-minute mark in the game as Lightning forward Cedric Paquette and Capitals forward Jay Beagle would be sent to the sin bin for Roughing. Neither team would gain an advantage from this, but it was quickly apparent tensions were on the rise.

Around five minutes later, the Capitals would get an opportunity with the man advantage as Lightning forward Yanni Gourde would get the call to the box for Hooking against Capitals forward Lars Eller. The good news here is the Bolts were able to kill the penalty and return to full strength.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

Given the strength of the Capitals Power Play in Game 1, the entirety of the Bolts Nation exhaled a serious sigh of relief as the Lightning was able to kill off the penalty to Gourde and return to full strength. Unfortunately, the exhale would quickly turn to a cringe.

A little over a minute after the expiration of the penalty to Gourde, Eller would pick up his fifth goal of the postseason to seize the lead for the Capitals once again. With less than two minutes left in the period, you would’ve thought the misery was over, but, well…

There were 10 seconds left in the period when Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy would get whistled for two minutes for Tripping against Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky. If someone wants to discuss weak penalty calls, this one should probably be on the top of the list.

Despite the opposition from Lightning fans, the penalty would stick. The penalty would be served by Lightning forward Ondrej Palat. This would allow the Capitals to twist the knife just a little more.

Three whole seconds remainder on the clock in the second period when Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov would beat Andrei Vasilevskiy and extend the Caps lead over the Bolts to two. This was his eighth goal of the postseason with assists going to captain Alex Ovechkin and Lars Eller.

There definitely weren’t a lot of positives to discuss when it comes to the second period of play. The Lightning allowed the Capitals to score three completely uncontested and unanswered goals in the second frame. This simply cannot happen if a team wants to be successful at this point in the season.

About the only thing of note the Lightning accomplished in the second period was they continued their domination in the Faceoff Circle. The Bolts controlled the Faceoff Circle 37-63 in the second period. Unfortunately, it was the faceoffs they didn’t win that have caused them to lose control of the game.

At this point, the Tampa Bay Lightning had 20 minutes to get their heads surgically removed from their posterior orifice and get back in the game. It seemed like a pretty long shot, but the Lightning was left with little choice if they didn’t want to head to DC with a two-game deficit.

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Regrettably, the first five minutes of the game followed suit with the periods that came before and caused much frustration for Lightning fans. The Lightning defense would go full-collapse and allow a two-on-one heading into the defensive zone which resulted in yet another goal for the surging Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin would pick up his 10th goal of the postseason with assists from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson. At this point, the air had been completely let out of the arena. It was hard to imagine a scenario where the Lightning could come back and win the game.

The Capitals would rub salt deep in the wounds of the Lightning just before the seven-minute mark in the third period. Michal Kempny would get whistled for two minutes for Cross-Checking Lightning forward Cedric Paquette right across the face. Unfortunately, the Bolts would fail to convert on the opportunity.

The final nail in the coffin of the Lightning’s Game 2 effort would come at 12:57 in the third when former Lightning forward Brett Connolly would pick up his third goal of the postseason to give the Capitals a commanding 6-2 lead over the Bolts.

This would be the end of the line for many Bolts fans in attendance at the game tonight. With four minutes left in the game, the Amalie Arena was essentially a ghost town.

We here at Bolts By The Bay have never been one to walk out on a game and would continue to watch tonight’s game despite the amount of pain it caused our soul, but we can honestly tell you there is little inspiration to read the fanbase the business in this particular situation.

The team is playing with no passion, they are making simple mistakes left and right, and are not playing anywhere near their capabilities. This is not the Tampa Bay Lightning team which came back against the Boston Bruins to win four games in-a-row. They seem to be on vacation at the moment.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Capitals would deliver a second consecutive defeat to the Lightning with a score of 6-2. We’ve searched high and low for something positive to say, but the words were nowhere to be found at the moment. This series has been an absolute dumpster fire thus far.

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has been putting up some of the most horrendous numbers he has all season long. In the last five periods he’s played, he’s allowed 10 goals. Yes, 10 goals in two games. This is almost unheard of for a goaltender who is currently a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

Final. 6. 19. 2. 23

It would not come as much of a shocker for Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper to give backup goalie Louis Domingue the nod in Game 3 at the Capital One Arena in DC. Under no circumstances is anyone saying Vasy is entirely to blame for the Lightning’s current situation, but there is definitely a level of culpability.

Maybe allowing Vasy to sit for a game will light a fire under the rest of his team and make them realize the position they’ve put their goaltender in. Then again, if the Lightning doesn’t do something in Game 3, they are going to find themselves on the brink of elimination. This is not where the Bolts want to be after coming this far.

The Tampa Bay Lightning has little to no time to dwell on the mistakes they’ve made thus far. Both teams will have a day to make their way to DC before getting down to business on Tuesday night for Game 3. The game is set to kick off at 8:00 p.m. and can be seen, once again, on the NBC Sports Network.

The Lightning has their backs against the wall right now. They simply must put these two losses out of their minds and focus on formulating a plan to not only shut down Alex Ovechkin and his line but find ways to solve the Braden Holtby conundrum and put the puck in the back of the net.

This is not the first time the Lightning has found themselves in this position. There is still time in this series for the Lightning to surge and start playing to the level the Bolts Nation has come to expect from them. The time for change is now. Game 3 will be a defining moment, good or bad, for the Lightning.

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Here’s hoping the team steps up, owns their mistakes, and gives everything they have in order to get back in the series. The Eastern Conference Final is far from over, but if the Lightning can’t get it together, the sun will be setting soon. Let’s hope fans get a visit from the Lightning team who beat the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins not that long ago.