Stanley Cup Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning seize control of series with Game 5 victory

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning seize control of the series, defeating the Washington Capitals 3-2 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final.

There were those who quickly dismissed the Tampa Bay Lightning after they fell to the Washington Capitals in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. When the series made its way to the Capital One Arena in DC, the Lightning quickly proved why you should never count the Bolts out.

The Lightning picked up wins in both Games 3 and 4, sending the series back to the Amalie Arena here in Tampa on an even keel. Tonight, the Lightning had another monkey to shake off their backs. If the Bolts wanted to seize control of the series, they would have to find a way to win at home.

Thankfully, the Lightning came into tonight’s encounter ready to bring the fight straight to the face of the Capitals. It took the Bolts the whole of 19 seconds to strike the Caps. After a turnover in the neutral zone, Ryan Callahan and Cedric Paquette would come racing into the Capitals defensive zone.

Cally would hand the puck off to Paquette. Ceddy wasted no time at all in firing off the puck and hitting the back of the net to give the Lightning the early advantage. The Lightning definitely got off to the start they hoped. Now, the question became whether or not they would be able to apply continuous pressure.

The answer…was yes. A little under a minute before the halfway point in the period, the Lightning would strike once again. This time, it would be forward Ondrej Palat who would hit the back of the net. Palat’s first-period goal would be his sixth goal of the postseason with the assist to Nikita Kucherov.

Now, the Lightning would hold a definitive lead over the Capitals. If the only games you’ve watched this season were Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final, you may be a little shocked. If you’ve followed the Lightning this season, you’d be happy to see your old friends once again.

Not long after the halfway point in the period, the Lightning would get their first crack at the Power Play. Unfortunately, it would come at the expense of Brayden Point’s head. Brett Connolly would come up behind Point and essentially put him in a headlock. As Point fell to the ground, his helmet would be ripped off.

The good news here is Brayden Point didn’t sustain any sort of injury on the play. Now, the Lightning was headed to the Power Play. The Lightning would apply a decent amount of pressure on the Caps during the Power Play, but ultimately, they were able to kill off the penalty and return to full strength.

When the buzzer sounded to end the first period of play, the Lightning would lead the Capitals 2-0. The Lightning’s offense proved to be their best defense tonight. The Bolts were able to hold the Caps to a mere four shots on goal to their 13 shots on goal.

Surprisingly, the Lightning didn’t control the faceoff circle in the first. The Capitals gained a lot of ground in the Faceoff Circle, going 58-42 in the first 20 minutes of play. The Lightning had a tremendous first period, but they would need to strengthen a little in other areas if they wanted to keep the pressure on the Caps.

The second period started almost as fast as the first. A mere 33 seconds into the second period, the Lightning would pick up their third goal of the game. Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman would use some of his sweet puck handling skills to carry the puck from the neutral zone towards the net.

Stralman would do everything he could to put the puck on the net but simply couldn’t seal the deal. This is where Ryan Callahan comes into play. Cally was fighting for position in front of the net when he was pushed by Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.

This would put him in the perfect position to redirect the puck right past Capitals netminder Braden Holtby and into the back of the net. Before anyone had any idea what happened, the Lightning would have a 3-0 lead over the Capitals. Of course, no good game comes without some form of adversity.

The Callahan goal would come under review. It was unclear exactly what the officials were looking for, but the good news is the Lightning actually came out on the winning end of this one. The call on the ice would stand and we had a good goal. As one could easily imagine, this was much to the chagrin of Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, the Capitals would finally make their way onto the scoreboard. This would come off the stick of Evgeny Kuznetsov, who would pick up his 11th goal of the season off a deflection from defenseman Matt Niskanen.

The Capitals made up quite a bit of ground in the second period when it came to Shots on Goal. The red team would outshoot the blue team 12-5 in the second for a two-period total of 16-18 in favor of the Bolts. Reversely, the Lightning would make up for lost time in the Faceoff Circle, going 45-55 through two periods.

There is no denying the Capitals created some serious momentum for themselves in the second period. The bright side is the Lightning was able to shut it down and maintain their definitive lead. Up until tonight’s encounter, the Lightning struggled against the Capitals at home, but they seemed determined to change this.

The Capitals really brought the fight to the Lightning in the early moments of the third period. It’s almost as if they could feel the breath of the Lightning on the backs of their necks and knew they would have to do something if they wanted to get back in the game.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

Luckily, the Lightning was having none of it. No matter what the Capitals threw at the Lightning, the Bolts were able to shut it down. A huge part of this would be Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy came up with some huge saves in order to preserve the Lightning’s lead.

Unfortunately, the Lightning’s luck would run out eventually. The Capitals would pull Holtby in order to get an extra attacker on the ice. The first time the Bolts didn’t have the right pairing on the ice, the Capitals took advantage and cut the Lightning’s lead to one thanks to a goal from Alex Ovechkin.

The next 1:36 would be the most nerve-wracking of the postseason to date. The Capitals had tasted blood and were looking for any opportunity to tie the game and steal a victory from the Bolts. Thankfully, the Lightning wasn’t ready to release their hold on the Capitals just yet.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Lightning would break the curse which has darkened their doorstep the entire series and seized control of the series from the Capitals. The Bolts would outscore the Capitals 3-2 and send the series back to the Nation’s Capital with the momentum squarely on their side.

Let’s start by talking about how terrific Andrei Vasilevskiy played in tonight’s game. While we’re sure Vasy would like to have those two goals back, the game would be totally different if Vasy hadn’t made some of the amazing saves he did throughout three periods of hockey.

Also, hats off to Cedric Paquette. Paquette picked up his first postseason goal just 19 seconds into the game, setting the tone for the entire game. It was almost as if it was the Lightning’s game to lose from the moment the puck dropped.

23. Final. 2. 19. 3

Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper made an interesting choice when he elected to start the 4th line against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals top line. As the Lightning proved incredibly early, this could’ve been the best decision Cooper has made all series long.

The Tampa Bay Lightning finds themselves in a very advantageous position right now. The Lightning has the Capitals on the brink of elimination. If the Lightning can continue their domination of the Caps in their own building, the Bolts could be within 60 minutes of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Bolts cannot allow the Capitals to gain any ground. This means starting to game much the same way they did tonight and continuing to apply pressure throughout the entire 60 minutes. If the Lightning can keep momentum on their side and continue to play the way they did tonight, it’s going to be a good night on Monday night here in the Bolts Nation.

Next: Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin Collide In ECF

As we mentioned before, the series is headed back to DC for Game 6 on Monday night. The puck is set to drop at 8:00 p.m. It’s going to be rough waiting for Monday night’s game, but as the old saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.”