Tag Archives: 2018 Eastern Conference Finals

Vasilevskiy makes ECF a best-of-three series

 

By winning Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 at Capital One Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reclaimed home-ice advantage from the Washington Capitals by leveling the series at two victories apiece.

With Washington out-shooting the visiting Lightning 38-20, no Bolt deserves more credit for the victory than First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy. After allowing the first goal of the game to D Dmitry Orlov (F T.J. Oshie and D Matt Niskanen) only 4:28 into the contest, Vasilevskiy proceeded to post a 36-for-38 effort (.947 save percentage) despite facing no fewer than nine shots against per frame. In particular, Vasilevskiy stood extremely tall when taking on Washington’s four power plays, as he saved all nine shots faced while his club was shorthanded.

Meanwhile, G Braden Holtby only wishes his play looked anywhere near as good as Vasilevskiy’s. His 16-for-19 performance (.842 save percentage) was borderline disastrous, especially given the incredible help his offense was providing him.

Wait, offense?

Yes, it was not the Capitals’ defense, but their offense that truly kept Holtby’s workload light. Not only did they more than double Tampa’s shots on goal in both the first and second periods (15-7 and 14-6, respectively), but the Caps also held extended possessions in their offensive zone. Pair that with Oshie’s two takeaways and W Devante Smith-Pelly‘s six hits, and you find a team that made life so easy on its goaltender that he just might have grown complacent.

That’s not to say the goals he allowed were soft. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Take for example Second Star F Brayden Point‘s (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson) tic-tac-goal only 1:10 after Orlov’s that tied the game at one-all. Holtby was forced to shade towards his left post when he saw Gourde – who scored 25 goals this season, the fourth-most among all rookies – all by himself inside the near face-off circle, but some deft passing across the slot to Point was all the second line needed to take advantage of a sloppy pass by D Michal Kempny.

Similarly, it’s hard to blame Holtby for his second goal allowed in the first period, registered only 2:54 after Point’s. This time, he was tasked with keeping Tampa’s lethal power play off the scoreboard thanks to C Lars Eller‘s holding penalty against RW Nikita Kucherov 1:05 before.

A power play that had scored at least once in eight previous contests is obviously in a groove, and that groove continued at the 8:32 mark of the game when C Steven Stamkos (Point and F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-1 with a one-timer from the slot.

For those keeping track at home, the Lightning now sport a 30.8 percent power play conversion rate that is tops among the four teams still competing for the Stanley Cup, trailing only Boston – their opponent in the previous round – for the mark of best power play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the score never changed, the remaining 11:28 of the first period was far from uneventful. However, the previously mentioned shots on goal were not the only activity as even the missed shots drew many a Capitals fan to his or her feet. In particular, W Alex Ovechkin had more than his fair share of salivating shots on net – both in this frame as well as the entire game – but many of those whizzed past the wrong side of the post and harmlessly crashed into the endboards.

Just when it seemed like Vasilevskiy was going to be unbreakable for the remainder of the tilt, Third Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Ovechkin and RW Tom Wilson) sprung hope anew in Washington with his wrist shot 5:18 into the second period.

With the exception of Kuznetsov’s path taking him along the left boards instead of between the face-off circles, this goal was eerily reminiscent of the marker that eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs for the first time since April 2015. A long pass from Ovechkin sprung his countryman for a breakaway opportunity against the goaltender (who, by happenstance, is also a fellow Russian), who he beat five-hole.

Thanks to some incredible defense played by both clubs (RW Ryan Callahan matched Smith-Pelly’s six hits and D Ryan McDonagh blocked a game-high four shots), that 2-2 tie lasted 26:39 before Tampa third-liner F Alex Killorn (W Ondrej Palat and D Mikhail Sergachev) provided the game-winning goal.

Struck six seconds after Eller was released from the penalty box (his second foul of the night, this time for hooking the eventual goalscorer), Killorn showed some impressive puck-handling skills inside the crease to convert a forehanded shot that would likely be stopped by Holtby’s left leg into a backhand that sneaked between the netminder’s wickets.

With 2:09 remaining in regulation, Head Coach Barry Trotz was forced to pull his goaltender for the second consecutive game. Tampa Bay was unable to convert on the empty net in Game 3, but rookie C Anthony Cirelli bested that effort with 62 seconds remaining to cement the Bolts’ series-evening victory.

Now that they’ve given up the home-ice advantage they worked so desperately to win in Florida, the Capitals must now find a way to win at least one more game at Amalie Arena. A good first step towards doing that – especially for Eller – will be to avoid the penalty box, as the Caps’ 73.7 percent successful penalty kill is the worst remaining in the playoffs.

Saturday is the day for the Eastern Conference Finals’ all-important Game 5. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Eastern (right after the Preakness Stakes) and may be viewed on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Caps’ attack too much for Bolts; win Game 1 4-2

 

After a 4-2 victory at Amalie Arena over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1, home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Between the actual 2-0 score and the fact that the Caps led 9-2 in shots on goal, we get a rather accurate impression of how the first 20 minutes went down.

The Caps almost exclusively dominated possession from the opening draw to the first TV timeout. They might have managed only two shots on goal in that time (which still exceeded Tampa’s zero), but the fact that they kept the puck in their offensive zone did a lot to wear out the Bolts’ defensemen early.

That pressure paid off in spades at the 7:28 mark when Washington drew first blood in the Eastern Finals. D Michal Kempny (Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov and D John Carlson) did the dirty work with a wrist shot from the blue line, his first-ever North American postseason marker.

Of course, the best weapon against possession is a stellar counterattack. RW Nikita Kucherov and the Lightning though they had done just that with seven seconds remaining before the first intermission, but it was ruled Tampa Bay had too many men on the ice, negating the goal and awarding a power play to Washington.

Entering the game with the best power play in the postseason (converting 30.9 percent of man-advantages into goals), the Caps completed their stellar command of the first frame by burying a man-advantage tally with only six seconds remaining in the frame.

Who else to score that power play goal than First Star W Alex Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and F T.J. Oshie)? Almost unexpectedly, Ovechkin departed from his usual spot in the left face-off circle and scored his patented one-touch slap shot from the blue line on a set play from Oshie’s face-off victory.

Washington picked up right where it left off 2:40 into the second period. Third Star F Jay Beagle (W Brett Connolly and D Dmitry Orlov) beat G Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole from the slot, receiving an unintentional assist from D Braydon Coburn after Connolly’s centering pass bounced off his skate.

4:02 later, the score read 4-0 when C Lars Eller (Oshie and Ovechkin) converted a Kucherov roughing penalty into yet another power play goal – Washington’s final tally of the game.

What started as a 2-0 shot differential early in the first period became a 25-10 domination by the second intermission. It could be argued that LW Jakub Vrana‘s game-high five shots on goal is a major part of that, but I would instead point to Oshie’s two takeaways over the course of the game, as well as both Kucherov and FJ.T. Miller yielding two giveaways by the end of regulation.

Additionally, Washington was also excellent at blocking shots, as it managed 19 before retreating to its hotel that evening. Co-led by Carlson and D Matt Niskanen‘s three blocks apiece, the Caps’ blue line was a major reason for Tampa’s struggle to establish anything close to an offensive presence in the opening 40 minutes.

However, all that turned on its head in the third period when Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to bench Vasilevskiy, who saved 21-of-25 shots faced for a .84 save percentage, in favor of G Louis Domingue.

While Vasilevskiy could have certainly been better in this game, he didn’t give up any blatantly soft goals (looking at you, G Pekka Rinne). Instead, his benching was intended to be a message for his team, and the Lightning certainly responded just as Cooper wished.

It took 43:45 of play and RW Alex Chiasson sitting in the penalty box for slashing F Alex Killorn, but Tampa Bay finally got on the scoreboard when C Steven Stamkos (Kucherov and D Victor Hedman) did his best Ovechkin impression and scored a clapper from the left face-off circle, pulling the score to 4-1.

That was certainly more than enough to get the positive energy surging in the arena. Tampa out-shot the Capitals 11-7 in the third period, proving just how much of the game was  played in its attacking zone.

Keeping hope alive, another goal trickled by with 6:57 remaining in regulation when W Ondrej Palat (F Tyler Johnson and D Anton Stralman) beat G Braden Holtby short side with a wrister from the slot.

However, hope ran short in that remaining time due in large part to the solid effort of Holtby. Though it wasn’t his best game of the season, Holtby posed an imposing challenge even after the Bolts pulled Domingue for the extra attacker. In all, he saved his last four shots faced in the game, posting an 19-for-21 (.905 save percentage) overall performance.

If the Lightning learned one thing from this game, it is that they cannot continue committing penalties like they have been in these playoffs. Washington’s power play, which converted 50 percent tonight, is just too potent for the Bolts to continue serving the 14:41 penalty minutes per game that they’ve managed through the first two rounds.

Tampa’s first opportunity to resolve that issue is in Game 2, which is right back at Amalie Arena and scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern this Sunday. Fans unable to make it to Western Florida can catch the live broadcasts on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Capitals break Washington’s 20-year curse, advance to Eastern Finals

Washington Capitals Logopittsburgh_penguins_logoWashington Capitals forward, Evgeny Kuznetsov, had a tremendous chance to give Washington a two-goal lead in the second period, but couldn’t settle the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender, Matt Murray was down, leaving a mostly open net exposed.

Diehard D.C. sports fans in living rooms across Maryland and Virginia shrugged. They had seen their teams do this before, with all four major North American D.C. sports franchises having blown opportunities to advance to the conference finals in their respective sport since 1998.

But tonight would prove to be different. Kuznetsov would get his shot (literally) at redemption.

At 5:27 of overtime, Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal— ending Washington, D.C.’s 20-year Eastern Conference Finals appearance drought— as the Capitals defeated the Penguins 2-1 on the road in Game 6.

Braden Holtby made 21 saves on 22 shots against for a .955 save percentage in 65:27 time on ice in the win for Washington, while Murray stopped 28 shots out of 30 shots faced for a .933 SV% in 65:27 TOI in the loss.

Both teams got going in the first period— trading scoring chance for scoring chance— but neither team was able to score in the opening 20 minutes of Game 6 Monday night.

Instead, the only event sheet worthy action in the first period were a couple of minor penalties; one to Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta for high-sticking at 4:11 and the other to Washington’s Michal Kempny for tripping at 11:25.

After one period of play, the Capitals led in shots on goal (7-6) and hits (16-9), while the Penguins led in blocked shots (7-5), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (8-2) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The score remained tied, 0-0, through 20 minutes of play and both teams were 0/1 on their respective power play opportunities.

Alex Chiasson (1) notched his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— and a timely one at that— as the Capitals took the game’s first lead of the night, 1-0, just over two minutes into the second period. Nathan Walker (1) and Jay Beagle (3) had the assists on Chiasson’s goal, making Walker the fifth Washington rookie to amass a point in this postseason, as well as the first Australian born NHL player to record a point in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Kuzenetsov couldn’t bury the puck on a largely open net shortly thereafter.

Sidney Crosby won an offensive zone faceoff midway through the second period and worked the puck back to Brian Dumoulin.

The Penguins defender sent it along to his partner on the blueline, Kris Letang (3) who threw a shot towards the net, where, after deflecting off of a Capitals skater’s stick, the puck went past Holtby and hit the twine, tying the game, 1-1, as the home crowd at PPG Paints Arena erupted.

Dumoulin (6) and Crosby (12) were credited with the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on Letang’s game-tying goal at 11:52 of the second period.

Pittsburgh surged.

They fired chance after chance at Holtby, only to end up providing the Washington netminder with a highlight reel save with about seven seconds left in the period.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Penguins and Capitals were tied, 1-1. Shots on goal were even too, 15-15. Pittsburgh led in blocked shots (15-11), takeaways (5-3) and giveaways (12-2), while Washington led in hits (29-21). The Pens continued to dominate the faceoff dot, with a 62-38 faceoff win percentage advantage. Neither team recorded a penalty in the second period, so both were still 0/1 on the skater advantage.

The Caps came out in the third period swinging. Then the Penguins responded. Neither team put the puck past their opponent’s goaltender, however.

Holtby made a desperation save with under three minutes to go in regulation and Murray made a desperation save with under one minute remaining in regulation to match Holtby’s effort.

At the end of 60 minutes, the score remained, 1-1, with the Capitals outshooting the Penguins, 24-20. Washington also led in hits (35-29), while Pittsburgh had an advantage in blocked shots (19-14), takeaways (9-3), giveaways (15-4) and faceoff win percentage (65-35).

There were no penalties assessed in the third period, so both teams remained 0/1 on the power play.

Entering overtime, the Capitals held an experience advantage in extra frames this postseason as Washington was taking part in their fifth overtime game of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs while Pittsburgh was seeing their first game past 60 minutes.

Penguins forward, Tom Kuhnhackl, rang the far left post early into the sudden death action shortly after the Capitals generated a couple quality scoring chances on Murray.

T.J. Oshie connected with John Carlson and the Washington defender almost ended it, but soon enough the end would come as the Capitals capitalized on a similar breakout play.

Alex Ovechkin sent Kuznetsov into the zone on a lead pass that turned into a breakaway as Penguins defender, Kris Letang, was caught out of position.

Kuznetsov (7) buried the puck past Murray and Washington propelled themselves over their biggest speed bump in the postseason in the Ovechkin era— the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ovechkin (7) and Dmitry Orlov (5) notched the assists in poetic fashion, as Ovechkin is often subject to criticism for not doing enough to put his team over the edge. Monday night, his critics were rightfully silenced.

The Capitals won, 2-1, and led in shots on goal, 30-22. Pittsburgh finished the night leading in blocked shots (21-14), giveaways (15-4) and faceoff win percentage (62-38), while Washington finished the night with more hits (36-33). Both teams were 0/1 on the power play with no penalties called after the first period.

For the third time in franchise history (1990 vs. BOS, 1998 vs. BUF, 2018), Washington is in the Eastern Conference Finals. They will square off with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the chance to play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Tampa tops Boston in OT, can win series on Sunday

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The Tampa Bay Lightning thundered along to a 4-3 overtime win in Game 4 at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins on Friday night. Dan Girardi scored the game-winning goal on a deflection and the Lightning will take a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 on home ice.

Bolts goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, turned aside 29 shots on 32 shots faced for a .906 save percentage in the win, while Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask, made 24 saves on 28 shots against for an .857 SV% in the loss.

Entering Friday night, the team that scored the game’s first goal went on to win the game in every game so far in this series.

So when Brayden Point (3) forced a turnover, split Boston’s first defensive pair (Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy), fired a shot on Rask, then pocketed his own rebound the fate of Game 4 was thought to be sealed just 4:36 into the action.

And through a series of events– technically speaking– it did as the “first-goal –> win the game” trend continued.

Minutes later, Rick Nash was penalized for tripping Tampa’s captain, Steven Stamkos, despite replay showing what might otherwise be dubbed “another controversial bad call in this, the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs” at 7:17 of the first period.

A little more than a minute later, as the Bruins struggled to get the puck out of their own defensive zone, Chara cleared the puck straight out of the playing surface and over the glass, thereby attaining the automatic minor penalty for delay of game.

The Lightning went to work on their 5-on-3 advantage and Nikita Kucherov (6) gave his team a two-goal lead on a one-timer fired from the faceoff dot to the left of Rask.

Victor Hedman (5) and Stamkos (6) had the assists on Kucherov’s goal (his first point of the series) and Tampa had a 2-0 lead seven seconds short of the halfway mark in the first period at TD Garden.

The Bolts were leading in shots on goal, 8-2, at the 9:53 mark of the first period.

Yanni Gourde followed up with a tripping minor of his own at 11:21 after taking down Bruins defender, Matt Grzelcyk, with his stick. Boston would not convert on their first power play of the night, but a few moments later, Stamkos and Rick Nash just couldn’t keep themselves away from each other (a trend that would continue deep into the night between these two players, let alone entire rosters).

Stamkos caught Nash with an illegal check to the head and was assessed a minor penalty at 14:45 of the first period.

On the ensuing power play, the Bruins generated scoring chance after scoring chance, but just couldn’t beat Vasilevskiy until David Pastrnak (6) worked his Czech magic, batting a puck out of the air, to score a power play goal and cut the Lightning’s lead in half, 2-1.

Torey Krug (8) and Brad Marchand (12) had the assists on Pastrnak’s goal at 15:28.

Heading into the first intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 11-9. The Bolts also led in blocked shots (9-5), hits (13-12) and takeaways (2-0), while both teams had five giveaways each and were 50-50 in faceoff win percentage. Additionally, the Lightning were 1/2 and the Bruins were 1/2 on the power play through one period of action.

Less than a minute— 43 seconds to be exact— into the second period, Tampa’s Tyler Johnson, tripped Pastrnak and Boston went back on the power play.

Fashionably late into the power play, the Bruins converted on a stereotypical power play goal from Patrice Bergeron (5) whereby the veteran center acted as the bumper from reception of the pass by Krug to the ensuing one-timer past Vasilevskiy.

Krug (9) had the only assist on the goal and Boston had tied the game, 2-2, at 2:04 into the second period.

A few minutes later, Nash and Stamkos found each other again, except Nash was the recipient of a controversial tripping minor (though not nearly as controversial as later calls and non-calls that ultimately played a hand in the course of the game, for better or worse).

The Lightning did not score on the power play and the Bruins killed off Nash’s tipping minor.

Through 40 minutes of hockey, the game was tied, 2-2, and the Bruins had rallied to lead in shots on goal, 23-15. Tampa held onto the advantage in blocked shots (14-12), hits (24-23) and giveaways (8-6), while Boston had an advantage in takeaways (9-6) and faceoff win percentage (62-38). After two periods, the Bolts were 1/3 on the power play and the B’s were 2/3.

Noel Acciari led things off on the event sheet in the third period with a phantom hooking call against Hedman at 5:34. This level of consistency would not be upheld later in the third en route to Tampa’s game tying goal, staying par for the course on the level of officiating in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs league-wide.

While shorthanded, Marchand led a break alongside Bergeron and threw the puck towards the Bruins center, whereby Bergeron (6) redirected it into the twine and gave Boston their first lead of the night, 3-2, on a shorthanded goal.

Marchand (13) had the only assist on Bergeron’s second goal of the night at 6:36 of the third period.

Johnson slashed Chara less than a minute later, but the B’s were not able to convert on the resulting player advantage.

Following a hold on McAvoy by Kucherov that went unnoticed, the Lightning worked the puck in the offensive zone from J.T. Miller over to Stamkos (3) for a blast that went past Rask and knotted the game, 3-3, almost a few minutes past the halfway mark of the third period.

Miller (5) officially recorded the only assist on Stamkos’s tying goal at 12:56 of the third.

Regulation time would turn out to not be enough for Boston and Tampa to determine a winner, so for the first time in the series (as well as for both teams in the 2018 postseason), overtime became necessary.

After 60 minutes, the score was tied, 3-3, with the Bruins outshooting the Bolts, 30-26. Tampa led in blocked shots (23-18), hits (32-30) and giveaways (14-13), while Boston led in takeaways (12-8) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The Lightning would finish the night 1/4 on the power play and the B’s went 2/4 on the advantage.

Krug left the third period with what would later be classified as a “lower body injury” per the Bruins PR team and did not return to the action in Game 4.

Just past the three-minute mark in overtime, after Boston had a couple quality scoring chances, Dan Girardi (2) tipped a shot past Rask as a little puck luck went a long way for the Lightning.

Alex Killorn (2) and Gourde (4) notched the assists on the game-winning overtime goal at 3:18 of the overtime period and Tampa finished off Game 4 on the road with a 4-3 victory.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 32-28, and in faceoff win percentage, 62-38. Meanwhile, the Lightning had cemented a 3-1 series lead and led in blocked shots (24-19), hits (33-30) and giveaways (15-13).

Tampa can clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years (2015, 2017 and present) with a win on home ice in Game 5 of their Second Round series with Boston on Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC. Fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC or TVAS.