The Tampa Bay Lightning was unable to capitalize in DC, sending the series back to Amalie Arena for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday night.
The Tampa Bay Lightning found themselves in a very advantageous position heading into tonight’s encounter with the Washington Capitals. After dropping the first two games of the series to the Capitals, the Lightning rocketed back into the series, winning three games in a row.
The Lightning’s Game 4 victory on Saturday night gave the Lightning the series lead for the first time in the Eastern Conference Final. It also put the Bolts within one game of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
Before the Lightning can start thinking about the next phase of their quest for the Cup, they would have to defeat the Washington Capitals one last time this season. In order to accomplish a feat like this against a team with their backs against the wall, the Lightning would be forced to play their best game of the entire series.
The game started with a lot of back and forth between the two competitors. Despite the offensive aggression, neither side would be able to grasp an early lead. At the same time, this doesn’t mean the first period wasn’t filled with its fair share of drama.
Capitals forward Tom Wilson decided to show his uglier side early on in the game as he laid a particularly hard hit on Lightning forward Cedric Paquette. Paquette definitely got the worst of the collision, but the good news is he seemed to escape without any form of serious injury.
The Lightning brought some intense pressure to the Capitals in the first 20 minutes of play. While the Capitals would edge out the advantage when it came to Shots on Goal, going 6-8 in the first, the Lightning definitely made their share of the Shots on Goal count.
One thing that seemed to plague the Lightning in the first period was their passing game. Overpassing has been the bane of the Lightning’s existence for as long as most can remember. When you’re faced with a team like the Capitals, simple mistakes such as a turnover in the defensive zone can lead to an avalanche.
Another factor in tonight’s game was the Capitals fans in the stands. The crowd was absolutely electric and despite what some people will tell you, the players definitely feed off the energy of the crowd. If the Lightning wanted to avoid the Capitals making a trip back to Tampa, they would have to shut that down quickly.
The other factor contributing to the scoreless first period is Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. While the Lightning’s defense has been doing an excellent job of limiting opportunities tonight, the Lightning netminder came up huge on more than one occasion. This helped balance the momentum a bit.
The second period got off to a rather slow start. Once again, both teams would work hard in the hopes of putting the puck in the back of the net, but it seemed as if the hockey gods themselves were between the pipes for both the Lightning and Capitals.
Things started to get interesting around the 13-minute mark in the period. One of the officials would take a puck to the skate and be in what seemed like quite a bit of pain. Oddly enough, this is not what caused the stoppage in play. In fact, it was a penalty that would cause the halt.
Regrettably, the aforementioned penalty would be assessed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. It would be Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn who would earn a one-way ticket to the sin bin for Hooking against Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly. As we’ve said many times before, this is a dangerous position to be in.
The Capitals and their fans thought the Caps had a goal on the Power Play, but the goal post would make the save for Vasilevskiy and send the puck back into play. Unfortunately for the Lightning, the goal post wouldn’t be able to make the save the second time around.
Capitals forward T.J. Oshie would capitalize on the man advantage and pick up his sixth goal of the postseason with assists from Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Lightning would spend the remainder of the period chasing a goal.
The second period varied greatly from the first in terms of controlling the game. While both teams were pretty evenly matched through the first 20 minutes of play, the Capitals etched out a clear advantage in the second period, outshooting the Bolts 8-15 for a two-period total of 14-23 in favor of the Capitals.
Surprisingly, the Lightning came out of the tunnel for the third period with very little passion. Their skating was uninspired (at best) and the Bolts showed little offensive aggression. The Capitals played right into the Lightning’s early weakness and used it to extend their lead.
Seconds after the halfway point in the third, the Capitals would extend their lead to two with a goal from Devante Smith-Pelly. The goal would be Smith-Pelly’s fourth goal of the season, with assists going to Chandler Stephenson and Jay Beagle.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning would now have around 10 minutes to dig themselves out of an increasingly large hole. While the Bolts usually respond well in situations like this, it’s hard to overcome a deficit like this when the crowd is as lit as the Capital One Arena crowd was at this point in the game.
The Bolts would get an opportunity to get one back as they headed to the Power Play thanks to Backstrom making his way to the box for Tripping against Lightning forward Ondrej Palat. Unfortunately for the Bolts, the Capitals would ultimately kill the penalty and return to full strength.
If there was anything which could be considered the “downfall” of the Lightning in Game 6, it would be the tremendous holes in their passing game. There were far too many moments when a player trying to be cute with the puck would cause a turnover where there could’ve been a viable shot on goal.
Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to pull Andrei Vasilevskiy with a little less than two minutes left in the game. Unfortunately, the Lightning was completely unable to make anything of the man advantage. In fact, the empty net ultimately came back to bite them in the rear end.
After a classic case of too many passes led to a turnover, T.J. Oshie would pick up his second goal of the night and essentially hammer the final nail into the Lightning’s coffin. The Lightning would have less than a minute to dig themselves out of a three-goal deficit. Regrettably, this was simply not meant to be.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Capitals would shut out the Lightning 3-0, sending the series back to Amalie Arena for Game 7 on Wednesday night. The next 60 minutes of hockey would mean everything for the Lightning. Bring home a victory and play for the Stanley Cup or fall short and watch as their season came to an unceremonious end.
The Lightning knew coming into tonight’s encounter the Capitals had their backs against the wall. When someone is backed into a corner, it is a pure primal instinct to lash out and do everything possible to stay alive. This is exactly what the Capitals did in Game 6.
The pure lack of passion and determination on the part of the Lightning tonight was astounding. One would think they would want to board the plane tonight and head home in order to prepare for the final round. Now, they are headed back to the Bolts Nation for one final meeting with the Capitals.
The Bolts have a lot of work to do in the next couple of days if they want to finish off the series on a high note. This is definitely not the most ideal situation a team could be in right now, but there is still plenty of time for the Lightning to get out from under and bring home one of the most important victories of the postseason to date.
These two teams will meet one final time on Wednesday night. The puck is set to drop at 8:00 p.m. Much like tonight, the game will be televised at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The Bolts have a lot of work to do if they want to emerge victoriously. Here’s hoping the flight home will put things into perspective.