Stanley Cup Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning returns to form to defeat Capitals

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning has returned to their winning ways as they defeated the Washington Capitals 4-2 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.

The Tampa Bay Lightning found themselves in a rather precarious position tonight. After suffering back-to-back losses at the hands of the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final, the Lightning headed out on the road to the Capital One Arena in DC in the hopes of getting back in the series.

There were only two possible outcomes to tonight’s game. Either the Tampa Bay Lightning brought home a victory and shifted momentum back in their favor, or suffered another loss and quickly find themselves on the brink of elimination. Needless to say, no one wants to face four elimination games in a row.

The game didn’t get off to the start one would’ve initially hoped for, but it wasn’t entirely too long before the Lightning found their groove. In the opening minutes of the period, Nikita Kucherov almost seemed lost on the ice. He made a series of turnovers in a matter of minutes, which is very unlike him.

It didn’t take long for the tensions to escalate on the ice. Capitals forward Tom Wilson, who is best known for breaking the jaw of Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in the Second Round (which he was suspended for), laid a huge hit on Tyler Johnson. The hit was legal, but it sent Johnson flying into the boards.

It wasn’t long before the Lightning exacted a little revenge on the Caps. Unfortunately, it came with quite a cost for the Bolts. Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman would be sent to the sin bin for Boarding as he crushed Wilson into the boards. The only upside here is the Lightning was able to kill the penalty off unscathed.

As the time continued to tick off the clock in the first period, the Lightning started to apply some serious pressure to the Capitals. Just before the 13-minute mark in the period, the Lightning would get their first crack at the Power Play as Braden Holtby was called for Tripping against Yanni Gourde.

This would open the door for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos to strike, picking up his sixth goal of the postseason to give the Bolts the early lead. Things may have started off a little rocky, but this is the way the Lightning needed the period to progress.

The Capitals would outshoot the Bolts in the first period, but not by any sort of large margin. However, there was one particular arena the Lightning would dominate in the first period of play; the faceoff circle. The Bolts controlled the faceoff circle 65-35 in the first 20 minutes of play.

The second period was essentially all about the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was just 1:50 into the second period when Kucherov would pick up his seventh goal of the season to increase the Lightning’s lead to two. Assists on the goal would go to Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos.

Less than two minutes later, Lightning would strike for the second time as Hedman would pick up a goal of his own (his first of the postseason) to extend the Lightning’s lead to two goals. The assists on the goal would go to Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. It was abundantly clear the team the fans wanted to see is the team that took the ice against the Capitals tonight.

It wouldn’t take long before the Capitals would come back with a goal of their own. Capitals forward Brett Connolly would pick up his fourth goal of the postseason to cut the Lightning’s lead to two. Connolly is quickly becoming one of those players you love when they’re on your team and absolutely hate when you face them.

The Capital One Arena, which had gone silent after three straight goals from the Bolts, ignited once again following the goal from Connolly. This is something the Lightning would need to shut down post haste if they wanted to keep momentum on their side for the remainder of the game.

Speaking of shutting down the crowd, the Lightning would do just that with a little less than four minutes left in the second period. The aforementioned shutting down would come at the hands of Lightning forward Brayden Point, who picked up his sixth goal of the postseason with the assists to Tyler Johnson and Braydon Coburn.

When the buzzer sounded to end the second period of play, the Lightning would lead the Capitals 4-1. The Caps would once again emerge victorious when it came to shots on goal, but that was about the extent of it. Once again, the Lightning would dominate the Faceoff Circle 61-39.

The momentum was definitely in the Lightning’s favor at the start of the third period. Tensions escalated a little further around the seven-minute mark in the period. The Capital One Arena turned into Cross-Check City in front of the net. Ironically enough, neither team would emerge from this with the advantage.

Both Steven Stamkos and Lars Eller would take a trip to the sin bin; Stammer for Roughing and Eller for Cross Checking. Unfortunately, things would get exponentially worse a few moments later. Michal Kempny would take an epic cheap shot on Tyler Johnson as he cross-checked him from behind.

This sent Johnson tumbling to the ice, landing awkwardly on his leg. It was immediately apparent Johnson was in a good deal of pain. While he was able to make it back to his skates under his own volition, he did not return to the Lightning bench. Instead, he headed straight up the tunnel to the Lightning locker room.

This is not the first time Kempny has taken a cheap shot at someone. Kempny was fined $2,419.35 for Cross-Checking Lightning forward Cedric Paquette in the back of the head in Game 2. It’ll be interesting to see if this incident is met with some sort of suspension. Obviously, fines mean nothing to him.

The bad news here is the Capitals were able to kill the resulting penalty. The good news is, Tyler Johnson didn’t seem to suffer any sort of serious injury on the play as he was able to rejoin the Lightning on the ice before the end of the period. Johnson is not the kind of player you want missing any sort of significant time at this point in the postseason.

There was a little less than four minutes left in the third period when Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz would elect to pull Braden Holtby in order to get an extra attacker on the ice. It was almost immediately when the Capitals would take advantage of this and pick up their second goal of the night.

This goal would come at the hands of Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. This would serve as Kuznetsov’ ninth goal of the postseason with assists from T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller. Unfortunately for the Caps, this would be a classic case of “too little, too late.”

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

When the final buzzer sounded, the Lightning would pick up their first win of the series as they defeated the Washington Capitals 4-2 in DC. It is undeniable the Lightning really needed this win. Absolutely no one wants to play four elimination games in a row, which is what the Bolts would’ve done had they lost tonight.

If you take the couple of penalties the Lightning took out of the equation, the Bolts did everything they needed to in order to pull out a huge win over the Capitals. They were definitely more aggressive with the puck and made the most of the shots on goal they were able to bring forth.

Andrei Vasilevskiy played a heck of a game as well. Vasy turned away 36 of the 38 shots brought against him, giving him a Save Percentage of .947. A win like this will definitely help build his confidence back up heading into Game 4 on Thursday night.

Both teams will have tomorrow to do as they will before they get back down to business on Thursday night. These two teams will meet once again at the Capital One Arena for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final. The puck is scheduled to drop at 8:00 p.m.

The Lightning needs to play the exact same way they did tonight. The Capitals have tasted defeat for the first time, and as Lightning fans are well aware, the taste is bitter and rather nasty. They will definitely not want a repeat of tonight in front of their hometown crowd and will be looking for a little redemption.

Things will more than likely be increasingly physical and fans can expect some of the Capitals top guys to crash the net with reckless abandon. The defense is going to have to bring their ‘A’ game in order to limit the Capitals time in the zone and help out their goaltender.

Tonight’s victory was definitely a step in the right direction, but there is still plenty of work to do. The Capitals still hold the advantage and if the Lightning wants to advance to the next round, they will have to beat the Caps three more times. Assuredly, this is going to be no easy task.

Next: Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin Collide In ECF

As has been said many times, the Lightning has one of the most talented rosters in the National Hockey League right now. If the Bolts can stick to their system, avoid being pulled into any sort of nonsense, and remain focused on the task at hand, they have everything they need in order to get the job done.