The Tampa Bay Lightning’s season comes to a close as the Washington Capitals shutout the Bolts 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
The Tampa Bay Lightning was faced with one of the most important challenges they would face all season long. The Lightning would face the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Emerge victoriously, and the Bolts advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose, and their journey has come to an end.
If the Lightning wanted to walk away a winner from tonight’s contest, they would have to be prepared to leave everything out on the ice and hold absolutely nothing back. This means striking hard and fast and continually bringing the fight straight to the Capitals.
It’s not apparently clear what changed in between practice and game time, but the team that took the ice in the first period didn’t seem like they got the message tonight was a Game 7. It took just about a minute for the Capitals to seize the lead with a goal from Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
Less than a minute later, the Lightning would be at a disadvantage as forward Brayden Point would find himself with a one-way ticket to the sin bin for Holding against Lars Eller. The good news here is the Lightning was able to kill the penalty and return to full strength.
Just before the seven-minute mark in the period, the Capitals would fall victim to a classic case of wrong place, wrong time. Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh fired off a shot towards the net. The good news for the Caps is they were able to block the shot. The bad news is the shot was blocked by the back of Devante Smith-Pelly’s neck. Obviously, Smith-Pelly exited the ice and went straight to the bench.
Thankfully, the injury to Smith-Pelly was not serious and he was able to return to the game. He may be the enemy while on the ice, but it is never a good day to see a player go down like this.
Tensions would escalate to a whole new level as the final five minutes of the period approached. After Braydon Coburn ripped the jersey off a Capitals player in front of the net, Capitals forward Tom Wilson was absolutely incensed as he took a run at Coburn. After a brief exchange, both players would be headed to the box.
As one could easily imagine, this did not end there. No sooner than the two players were released from the box, the gloves were off and the two were attempting to tear each other’s heads off. Many were hoping this would provide the spark the Lightning needed to get back in the game, but this was not meant to be.
The Lightning had plenty of quality scoring chances in the first period of play, but they simply couldn’t seal the deal. This could be largely attributed to bad positioning in front of the net which rendered them incapable of digging for the rebound. This is something the Lightning would need to fix heading into the second period.
When the Lightning first hit the ice for the second period, it seemed as if they were ready to retake control of the game. The Bolts were able to hold the Capitals to a single shot on goal through the first eight minutes of the period. Regrettably, this defensive wall would only last so long before it would start to crack.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Right before the halfway point in the period, the Capitals would extend their lead over the Lightning with a goal from forward Andre Burakovsky. This would be his first goal of the postseason. Ironically enough, Burakovsky would pick up his second goal of the postseason just under eight minutes later, extending the Capitals lead to three goals.
Shortly before the second Burkovsky goal, the Capitals would take another hit to their line. After a hard hit from behind from Lightning forward Cedric Paquette, Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik would slam into the boards. Orpik hit the ice like a ton of bricks and laid there for quite some time.
Eventually, he was able to make his way off the ice but judging by the look on his face, he didn’t know his own name let alone the license plate on the truck that hit him. Thankfully for the Caps, after a minute to clear his head, Orpik was able to return to the ice.
Much like the first period of play, the Lightning had a plethora of scoring chances but they simply couldn’t solve Braden Holtby and put the puck in the back of the net. When the buzzer sounded to end the second period, the Capitals would own a solid three-goal lead over the Lightning.
This left the Tampa Bay Lightning with 20 minutes of hockey to complete a miraculous comeback, score four goals, and somehow seize their destiny. Is something this ambitious even possible? Sure, anything is possible in hockey. Heck, we’ve seen entire an entire series change in 17 seconds.
However, if this was going to come to fruition, the team would have to make a complete 360 turnaround and get their heads back into the game. Unfortunately, the Capitals would control much of the narrative for the first half of the period. The Caps would hold the Bolts to a single shot on goal in the first 12-plus minutes.
Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper would elect to pull Andrei Vasilevskiy in the final minutes of the game, but this would prove to do more harm than good. What seemed like seconds after the Lightning got the extra skater on, the Capitals would hammer the final nail in the Lightning’s coffin with a goal from Nicklas Backstrom.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Washington Capitals would bring home their second straight shutout and advance to the Stanley Cup Final to face the Vegas Golden Knights. At the same time, the Lightning’s season would come crashing down around them as they gave one final nod to the fans.
The simple fact of the matter is the Capitals wanted the win more and it showed on the ice. The Lightning, while they may have controlled some of the narrative in the second period, lacked a lot of passion we’ve seen from them in prior series, suffered from horrid positioning, and simply couldn’t lock down the Caps defensively.
As much as it tears at our soul to say this, the Washington Capitals deserved the win. The Lightning’s heart simply didn’t seem to be in it. Don’t get it twisted, the Lightning accomplished many a great thing this season and deserve a lot of credit for the hard work they put in, but their heart simply wasn’t there in the Conference Final.
Now, the Washington Capitals will advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 1997-98 season. Their journey is going to be a hard one. The Vegas Golden Knights are living out a “Cinderella Story” right now, and with Marc-Andre Fleury playing the way he is right now, the Caps will have to elevate their game.
The Tampa Bay Lightning has written the final chapter of their 25th Anniversary Season. There are a lot of positives to reflect on in the days ahead, but for now, Lightning fans will take a moment and let everything digest. It’s definitely a hard pill to swallow, but it’s a reality the fans will have to face.