The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.
Shouldn’t have to write this, really, but Bruins fans, calm down.
It’s not unlike Bruce Cassidy‘s Bruins to get off on a sour note out of the gate, though Boston has never seen quite a blowout game like this to start a regular season in their 95-year franchise history dating back to 1924.
Boston dropped Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals, 7-0, on the road at Capital One Arena– much to the pleasure of the Caps fans cheering their team on louder than ever for becoming “defending Stanley Cup champions” for the first time in franchise history as the night was marked by Washington’s banner raising ceremony.
Braden Holtby had a 25 save shutout for the Capitals, who won their 13th straight regular season matchup against Boston. The Bruins are now 0-10-3 against Washington since last defeating the Capitals in a 4-2 victory on March 29, 2014.
Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask stopped 14 out of 19 shots faced for a .737 save percentage before being pulled in the second period (27:28 time on ice). Jaroslav Halak made his Bruins debut and turned aside 16 of the 18 shots he faced in the remaining 32:32 of the game for an .889 SV%.
No, this does not mean there’s a goaltending controversy in Boston. It was one game. The first one. Relax. Even the San Jose Sharks lost Wednesday night, 5-2, to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose has Martin Jones— in addition to Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defense, in case you haven’t already heard that enough in the offseason.
Patrice Bergeron made his regular season debut despite not participating in a preseason game, but nothing else made waves for Boston in the headlines.
Boston’s effort in the first period dominated the face-off dot, winning 82% of the faceoffs drawn, but their penalty kill suffered.
A little over a minute later, Sean Kuraly tripped up Lars Eller in Boston’s defensive zone, putting Washington on the power play for the first time on the night at 1:45 of the first period. Two seconds was all it took for Evgeny Kuznetsov (1) to win the faceoff and fire a shot past the Bruins netminder to give Washington a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the 2018-19 regular season.
Jakub Vrana tripped Ryan Donato at 8:26 of the period and gave the Bruins their first man advantage of the night, but it was to no avail as Boston’s power play unit could not establish zone time in the offensive end.
After 20 minutes of play, the Capitals looked as though they hadn’t been diving in fountains around D.C. all offseason, while the Bruins looked like a team that was jet-lagged.
Perhaps from their trip to China as part of the NHL China Games this preseason. Not that it goes without saying that the lack of effort in the first period got even worse in the second and third period to the extent that upon Rask’s replacement with Halak, the Bruins backup goaltender was making every other save in desperation.
Entering the first intermission, Washington was outshooting Boston, 13-9.
Brad Marchand tripped Vrana early in the second period and the Bruins would be shorthanded once again.
Just 1:16 into the power play, Backstrom faked a shot then slid a pass over to Alex Ovechkin (1) in his stereotypical spot on the power play unit, slapping one past Rask from the faceoff circle and giving the Capitals a commanding 3-0 lead at 4:17 of the 2nd period. Backstrom (2) and Oshie (1) had the assists on the goal.
Ovechkin’s first goal of the season sparked a run of three goals on three shots in a span of 3:11 for Washington as Nic Dowd (1) and Kuznetsov (2) added a pair of goals to make it 4-0 and 5-0, respectively for the Capitals.
Dowd scored his first in a Washington sweater at 6:13 of the second period after the Bruins failed to clear the puck out of the zone and Washington got a shot off that was blocked by Boston defender, Matt Grzelcyk.
Finding the loose puck, while going through with a backhand shot on a spin-o-rama through Kevan Miller‘s legs and behind Rask, Dowd scored his first of the year with assists from Nathan Walker (1) and Devante Smith-Pelly (1).
Between Dowd’s goal and Kuznetsov’s second of the night, Kuraly dropped the gloves with young Capitals blue liner, Madison Bowey, resulting in five-minute major penalties for fighting at 6:45 of the 2nd period.
Kuznetsov pocketed his second goal of the game less than a minute later with John Carlson (1) and Braden Holtby (1) notching their first assists of the season. His soft goal on the short side of Rask was more than enough to convince Cassidy to replace the struggling netminder with Halak.
Carlson (1) took full advantage of a slap-pass from Ovechkin across the ice to the point and wired a clapper high-left side past Halak to make it 6-0 for the Capitals. Ovechkin (1) and Backstrom (3) picked up the assists on the Washington number one defender’s goal.
Through 40 minutes, Boston trailed 6-0 and in shots on goal 25-15 (including a 12-6 advantage for Washington in the 2nd period). The Bruins, however, were leading the night in physical play with a 25-12 advantage in hits (as is often the case of a losing team trying to pry the puck away from the other team in control of the scoreboard).
Washington was 4/5 on the power play through two periods and the B’s were 0/1.
Bowey opened the action in the 3rd period with a cross-check to Marchand at 8:25, giving Boston their second opportunity on the skater advantage for the night. They did not convert on ensuing the power play.
Instead, shortly after killing off Bowey’s minor, Lars Eller (1) found a way to sneak past Brandon Carlo and Noel Acciari— rushing back to bail out his defender– and into a one-on-one with Jaroslav Halak.
Eller fired the puck behind the Boston netminder for the point-after-touchdown goal giving Washington a 7-0 lead at 10:52 of the 3rd period. Eller’s ensuing celebration would irk the Bruins brass as he proceeded to wave his hand in a motion that seemed to signal for Boston to leave the rink.
Needless to say, some weren’t pleased– like Brad Marchand, who would drop the gloves with Eller moments later– but before that, a quick note on Eller’s goal as Chandler Stephenson (1) and Brooks Orpik (1) were credited with the assists on the quick transition that led to a breakaway conversion.
Marchand got a few good punches on Eller, leaving the Capitals third-line center bloodied, and picked up two minutes for instigating, as well as a 10-minute misconduct. The Bruins winger ended his night with a 2+5=10 effort at 13:54 of the 3rd period.
Eller received a five-minute major for fighting, as well, and got some attention to stop the bleeding before heading for the penalty box.
Washington finished off Boston as time expired, 7-0, and ended the night with a 37-25 shots on goal advantage. The Capitals also led in blocked shots (15-12) and giveaways (10-3), while the Bruins led in hits (28-16) and faceoff win% (68-32).
The Caps finished the night 4/6 on the power play, while Boston went 0/2.
To summarize, the Bruins effort was non-existent past the first line, especially after the first 20 minutes of the game. Kuraly led the way with four hits, while Chris Wagner and David Backes each had three apiece and Acciari had two. Fourth line winger, Joakim Nordstrom debuted in a Bruins uniform with one hit on the night and a largely forgettable appearance on the ice.
While Boston turns their attention to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at KeyBank Center, expert eyes of the fans, TV analysts and coaches will be paying attention to what kind of changes Cassidy makes to shake up his bottom-six depth and lackadaisical efforts on the blue line, while hopefully generating more offense– let alone a goal.
Except for Jake DeBrusk ringing the post in the first period, Boston’s effort was largely quiet.
It’s only one game, but it was not the game that set the tone for this 2018-19 Bruins team yet.
Nick and Connor fear living in a world where the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions and lament the end of the hockey season that was 2017-18. For the first time ever, the duo tackles a suggestion from a fan of the show (‘sup Gorms).
After 3,700 total games played (regular season and playoffs) in franchise history, the Washington Capitals will have a chance to hoist the Cup in game #3,701 having defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 6-2 at Capital One Arena on Monday night.
Washington will take a 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5 in Vegas and the Stanley Cup will be in the building if the Capitals win Thursday.
Braden Holtby amassed 28 saves on 30 shots against for a .933 save percentage in the win for Washington, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 17 out of 23 shots faced for a series low .739 SV% in the loss for the Golden Knights.
On the ensuing Golden Knights power play, Vegas had the Capitals penalty killing unit scrambling, yielding an open net opportunity as Holtby was way out of position— caught up in the mass desperation.
James Neal hit the far right post on a one-timer from the low left slot.
The home crowd erupted as Washington killed off the penalty, despite the lively play of the Golden Knights, but the score remained 0-0.
It only took 32 seconds for the Washington to capitalize on the player advantage as T.J. Oshie (8) buried a rebound to open the scoring in Game 4.
Evgeny Kuznetsov (16) and Nicklas Backstrom (15) had the assists on the goal that only happened thanks to Kuznetsov’s initial shot rebounding off of Fleury and landing on the stick of Oshie as the Capitals winger was crashing the net. The goal was Oshie’s 6th power play goal of the postseason.
About five minutes later, Tom Wilson (5) made it a two-goal game for the Caps.
Washington fought to come away with the puck on an attacking zone faceoff to the right of the Vegas netminder, then worked a quick pass to Wilson in the low slot for a one-timer. Kuznetsov (17) notched his second assist of the night on Wilson’s goal at 16:26 of the first period.
Late in the closing minute of the opening frame, Devante Smith-Pelly (6) cashed in top shelf on a crazy carom and sent Capital One Arena on an ecstatic euphoria never seen before in D.C. hockey history.
After one period, Washington led, 3-0, on the scoreboard, while the Golden Knights actually outshot the Capitals (11-10). The Caps also led in blocked shots (7-3), takeaways (5-4), giveaways (4-3) and faceoff win percentage (64-36), while both teams had 14 hits aside. Vegas was 0/1 on the power play and Washington was 1/1 on the skater advantage after 20 minutes.
Moments later, Wilson delivered a cross check up high to Nate Schmidt. Once again, Vegas failed to score a power play goal.
Late in the second period Neal slashed Holtby and the Capitals went on the power play at 14:45.
Carlson (5) sent a cannon of a slap shot past Fleury and gave Washington four unanswered goals to lead, 4-0. Kuznetsov (18) and Oshie (12) had the assists on Carlson’s power play goal at 15:23 of the second period.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Capitals led, 4-0, on the scoreboard and trailed the Golden Knights, 22-15, in shots on goal. Washington held the advantage in blocked shots (16-6), takeaways (10-7), giveaways (13-4) and faceoff win percentage (54-46), while Vegas led in hits (26-22). The road team Golden Knights were 0/3 on the power play and the home team Capitals were a perfect 2/2 on the man advantage after two periods.
Haula slashed Ovechkin 93 seconds into the third period and handed Washington a power play out of the gate in the final frame, but the Caps misfired for the first time on their special teams play and could not convert on the power play.
Kuznetsov then tripped Haula shortly after the Golden Knights forward made his way out of the box, giving Vegas a power play at 3:42.
One second after the power play ended, Neal (6) brought the puck from the hashmarks to the goal and tucked a shot under the short side arm of Washington’s netminder, ending the shutout opportunity, and cutting the lead to three.
Haula (6) and Miller (3) were credited with the assists on Neal’s goal at 5:43 of the third period and the Golden Knights trailed, 4-1.
With a surge in momentum that came much too late, Reilly Smith (4) made it a two-goal game at 12:26 with his 4th goal of the postseason, assisted by linemate Jon Marchessault (12) and teammate Luca Sbisa (4). Vegas’s improbable comeback had brought them to a 4-2 deficit.
Less than a minute later, Ryan Reaves and Wilson went at each other, subsequently receiving roughing minors and yielding 4-on-4 play at 13:03 of the third period. 36 seconds later, Washington put an end to Vegas’s comeback attempt.
Michal Kempny (2) was left all alone for a one-timer past Fleury as Miller was back-checked by Oshie while the Capitals forward was entering the attacking zone and working the puck over to Backstrom.
Backstrom (16) and Oshie (13) notched the assists on Kempny’s goal at 13:39 and the Caps led, 5-2.
Brooks Orpik was on the receiving end of a reverse check from Vegas early in the series and now Oshie had done it to one of Vegas’s own.
After Nate Schmidt was called for tripping Kuznetsov at 16:57, Oshie was back on the ice for his shift on the power play. Brayden McNabb took liberties on the Washington veteran by delivering a cross check after a stoppage in play at 17:44 of the third.
Oshie and Golden Knights defender, Deryk Engelland, exchanged heated words and shoves, leaving the officials on the ice with no other choice but to start handing out 10-minute misconducts (and that’s just what they did).
Both players involved were sent to the showers a few minutes early.
Brett Connolly (6) made sure to cash in on the resulting 5-on-3 power play opportunity.
Kuznetsov sauced a pass across the low slot— deflecting off of Backstrom— to reach Connolly, where the Capitals clutch depth scoring forward held the puck for a second then fired a shot past Fleury on the short side.
Backstrom (17) and Kuznetsov (19) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal that made it 6-2 at 18:51 of the third period. Kuznetsov became the first player to record four assists in a Stanley Cup Final game since legendary Colorado Avalanche center (and current GM), Joe Sakic, recorded four assists against the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
Washington’s four-goal lead was enough to seal the deal on a Game 4 victory, but not without one more 10-minute misconduct handed to Reaves at 19:17 of the third.
At the end of 60 minutes, the Capitals had not only taken a 3-1 series lead with a chance to win the Cup in Game 5, but had finished their Game 4 effort leading in blocked shots (24-8) and giveaways (18-7). Vegas finished the night leading in shots on goal (30-23), hits (39-29) and faceoff win percentage (52-48) despite trailing in the faceoff dot for the first two periods.
The Golden Knights went 0/4 on the power play, while the Capitals went 3/5 on the power play in Game 4.
At the start of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, hockey fans were guaranteed a first-time Stanley Cup winner and we’re on the verge of seeing Ovechkin and Co. hoist the Cup for the first time in Washington’s franchise history. Unless Fleury and the Golden Knights can rebound and hold off elimination long enough for a Game 7 on home ice.
Fleury’s series save percentage has dipped below an .855, leading some to wonder why current Vegas backup Maxime Lagace wasn’t utilized just to shake things up in Game 4. But for now both Golden Knights and Caps fans will have to wait until Thursday night for all of their last minute Game 5 storylines and history in the making.
Puck drop in Game 5 is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and viewers can tune in on NBC, CBC, SN or TVAS (depending on your location/viewing preferences).
For the first time in franchise history (43 years), the Washington Capitals have a series lead in the Stanley Cup Final— as a result of winning their first Stanley Cup Final victory on home ice in franchise history as well— Saturday night at Capital One Arena.
The Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-1, and take a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.
Braden Holtby stopped 21 out of 22 shots faced for a .955 save percentage en route to the win, while Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury replicated his Game 2 stats— 23 saves on 26 shots against for an .855 SV%— in the loss.
Fans rocking the red at Capital One Arena erupted in sheer joy only to be dismayed seconds later as the ref waved off what was thought to be a goal for the home team on account of goaltender interference. Instead of grabbing an early lead, Devante Smith-Pelly was heading to the penalty box at 5:04 of the first period.
Luckily for Washington, the Golden Knights could not convert on the ensuing power play.
The Caps couldn’t muster anything on the power play and Vegas responded well to the successful penalty kill with Jon Marchessault ringing the far right post shortly after Smith reentered the playing surface.
After one period of play, the game was still tied, 0-0, with Washington leading in shots on goal, 7-5. Washington also led in blocked shots (15-5), hits (17-12), giveaways (7-6) and faceoff win percentage (72-28), while the Golden Knights led in takeaways (5-4) after 20 minutes of play. Both teams were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.
While diving for a loose puck in a flurry of activity, Alex Ovechkin (14) buried the game’s first goal on the fifth attempt in Washington’s attacking zone possession, 70 seconds into the second period. John Carlson (14) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (15) notched the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Capitals after Fleury made a couple of great desperation saves.
Ovechkin tied John Druce for the most goals (14) in a single postseason in Capitals franchise history. Druce set the franchise record in Washington’s 1990 run to the Eastern Conference Final.
Erik Haula tripped up Kempny at 9:58 of the second period and was sent to the sin bin, giving Washington their second chance on the power play Saturday night. Despite Carlson rocketing a slap shot that was tipped by T.J. Oshie, the right post once again came up big and preserved a one-goal deficit for the Golden Knights as the Capitals failed to score on the power play.
But in the vulnerable minute after the special teams opportunity, Washington capitalized on Vegas’s misfortune.
Vegas had amassed a couple quality chances that were turned aside by Holtby and his defenders. Then the puck went the other way down the ice thanks to Oshie, Jay Beagle and Kuznetsov.
Bursting with speed through the transition, Kuznetsov (12) sniped a shot past Fleury on the odd man breakout giving Washington a 2-0 lead at 12:50 of the second period. Beagle (5) and Oshie (11) were credited with the assists on the eventual de facto game winning goal.
Smith-Pelly was guilty of tripping Shea Theodore late in the second period. About a minute later, with Theodore well out of position, Fleury left his crease to do just about anything to stop Matt Niskanen from yielding a scoring chance. Left with no other option, the Golden Knights goalie tripped the Washington blueliner and Theodore was sent to the sin bin to serve Fleury’s minor infraction at 19:38.
Through 40 minutes of play the Capitals led, 2-0. Washington dominated in shots on goal (21-13), blocked shots (19-7), hits (29-24), takeaways (9-8), giveaways (13-6) and faceoff win percentage (67-33) after two periods. Both teams were 0/2 on the power play entering the second intermission and Vegas’s strong first line offense was nowhere to be found.
Holtby mishandled the puck early in the third period, inadvertently sending the puck off of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, right on to the stick blade of Tomas Nosek. Nosek (4) pocketed a goal on a mostly empty net as the Capitals netminder dove to try to make a last ditch effort save.
Vegas cut the lead in half, 2-1, thanks to Nosek’s goal. Bellemare (3) earned the only assist on the shutout breaker at 3:29 of the third.
There’s just one problem— Engelland never tripped Backstrom. Backstrom’s teammate, Chandler Stephenson, had gotten his stick caught up in the Capitals forward’s legs and video replay confirms it. The refs had made an error that nearly cost the Golden Knights, but thankfully for Vegas, neither team had any hot hands on the power play.
Over six minutes later, Smith-Pelly (5) redeemed himself for his early goaltending interference penalty that cost his team of a surefire goal. The prominent clutch depth scoring forward one-timed a shot past Fleury on a pass from Beagle at 13:53 of the third period, securing a two-goal lead.
Beagle (6) had the only assist on the goal and Washington led, 3-1.
Time continued to tick and the Golden Knights couldn’t generate the necessary offense to overcome the trap.
Gerard Gallant pulled his goaltender with 2:38 remaining in regulation. Vegas used their timeout with 39.5 seconds left in the game. Washington couldn’t secure an empty net goal, but they did secure the 2-1 series lead at the final horn.
The Capitals had won, 3-1, leading in shots on goal (26-22), blocked shots (26-9), hits (38-31), giveaways (21-7) and faceoff win percentage (63-37) after 60 minutes. Vegas finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while Washington went 0/4.
Washington can take a commanding 3-1 series lead with another win at home in Game 4 on Monday. Despite their 5-5 record at home this postseason, the Caps improved to 11-4 overall when scoring first.
Puck drop in Game 4 is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET Monday night on NBC, CBC, SN or TVAS (depending on your location/viewing preferences).
George McPhee is on top of the world right now. Technically speaking maybe it’s just the part of the world that pertains to hockey. Actually, nope, let’s just extend that to all of sports because what the Las Vegas Golden Knights have done under the management of McPhee has never been done before and likely will never happen again. He has taken a team of misfits and turned them into potential Stanley Cup Champions. Just four wins is all that it will take for the Golden Knights to take a drink from the Holy Grail of hockey.
As many have noted, this will be no easy task. Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, and the rest of their crew are not going to simply roll over and die. The Capitals are a very formidable foe. They have been a great hockey team for many years, winning at least 45 games in the past four seasons, including two Presidents’ Trophies in that span. Washington has finally jumped over the so called “playoff hump” and they too have a great chance to raise the Stanley Cup. This brings me back to, George McPhee is on top of the world right now.
When a coach or team manager is fired, I would imagine there are probably a lot of things going through their minds. One of these things would surely be, “When will I get my next chance?” Athletes of any sport want their sunset moment. They don’t want to be removed from the game they love due to a career-ending injury or failing to earn a roster spot because age has taken its toll. General Managers are the same way, in that many of them get fired year after year, but they refuse to let that moment define them. They keep their heads up and work for the next opportunity.
After being relieved of his duties with the Washington Capitals in 2014, George McPhee found a new home with the Golden Knights and he has obviously made the most of it. If this team can win the Stanley Cup to culminate their first year of competition in the NHL, McPhee will be able look proudly upon the accomplishment, knowing he redeemed himself. As he celebrates with his coaches and players, he will experience that sunset moment.
But what if they lose? What if McPhee watches the program he took 17 years to build claim their first Stanley Cup, without him being a part of it? Well, he may not be on the Capitals’ payroll, but McPhee is still a big part of it.
The year is 2004 and a young, talented, Russian winger was first off the board in the NHL Draft. Alex Ovechkin was the first piece of the Capitals’ puzzle, arguable the most important. Two years later, Washington’s staff makes another great first-round selection, picking up Nicklas Backstrom. McPhee continues his hot streak, by drafting John Carlsson, Dmitri Orlov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the following years. The General Manager really showed off his recruiting talent when the Capitals chose Braden Holtby, who was a mid-draft pick at 93rd overall in 2008. There were plenty of other goalies on the board, but Washington picked Holtby, and well, you could say that was a pretty good choice.
George McPhee was fired years later due to lack of playoff success, paired with a couple harebrained schemes that turned out to be complete busts. The act of flipping first-round pick Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat was likely the final straw for his time in Washington, but his legacy has lived on. Roughly 50% of the current roster either played under or were drafted by his staff. Sure Washington has transitioned a bit since 2014, by adding talents such as T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik, but the core of the team hasn’t changed a significant amount and McPhee is responsible for that group of players.
When the Golden Knights and Capitals take the ice for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, you can bet anything that George McPhee will be behind his team. Why wouldn’t he be? Las Vegas can etch their name in the history books with a storybook season that will likely never be matched by another expansion team. But if they do lose, as McPhee watches Washington pass around the Stanley Cup, he can be satisfied knowing he had his hand in building a championship team. One way or the other, he has proven he is one talented General Manager.
The Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 on home ice by a score of 3-2. It was the first win by a home team in the series. A big part of the game was the matchups used by Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, and having a fast start to the game.
The Lightning started the game the best way possible scoring a goal just 19 seconds into the game. Cooper was playing the matchup and started his 4th line. They were able to force Dmitry Orlov into a turnover and Ryan Callahan made a great play to get the puck to Cedric Paquette who fired the puck past Braden Holtby. For his first of the playoffs.
Tampa continued the dominance in the first period by creating the majority of the chances. They doubled their lead just before the halfway mark of the period. Another turnover by Orlov, led to Ondrej Palat with a stick wrister past Holtby for a 2-0 lead. It was Palat’s 6th goal of the playoffs.
Tampa out played the Capitals in the first period, with the 4th line of Callahan, Paquette and Chris Kunitz leading the way. Tampa outshot the Capitals 13 to 4.
The second period started as well as the first for the Lightning. 33 seconds into the period Stralman made a great move to take the puck to the net while Callahan crashed in and the puck went off his upper body and into the net for a 3-0 lead. It was Callahan’s second point of the night and his 2nd goal of the playoffs
It seemed Washington wasn’t going to have an answer to break down Tampa. They did find a goal five minutes into the second period with Matt Niskanen letting a shot go from the point that was deflected by Evgeny Kuznetsov to make it a 3-1 game. It was Kuznetsov’s 22nd point of the playoffs.
This seemed to spark the offense of Washington as they began to pepper Andrei Vasilevskiy, but he stood tall. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 13 to 5 in the second period.
The third period was a back and forth period with both teams getting chances. Vasilevskiy and Holtby were both strong making saves they should make and some they had no right making. Washington took over late in the closing minutes of regulation. Tampa received some luck as Alex Ovechkin and his other Caps teammates hit the post a number of times.
Ovechkin did find his goal with less than two minutes left in the game and the extra attacker on the ice. He was a little above his signature spot, but his one timer blew by Vasilevskiy to make it a 3-2 game.
It was too little too late though, as Vasilevskiy robbed John Carlson as time ran down. Tampa held on to win on home ice and lead the series 3-2. Game 6 will be Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
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.
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.
On a dark and stormy night in the District of Columbia, the Tampa Bay Lightning pulled off the Eastern Conference Finals’ third-straight road victory by beating the Washington Capitals 4-2 at Capital One Arena in Game 3.
Just like Game 2 was all about the Capitals’ offense, the same can be said about Tampa’s in Game 3. In particular, the Bolts’ power play was cruising early, as it provided two of Tampa’s goals en route to a 3-0 advantage.
Taking advantage of G Braden Holtby‘s trip against F Yanni Gourde (RW Alex Chiasson served the penalty) with 7:03 remaining in the first period, C Steven Stamkos (Second Star of the Game D Victor Hedman and F Brayden Point) ripped a Little Einsteins (Americans with the privilege of hearing Pierre McGuire’s analysis should know what I’m talking about) slap shot past Holtby to give Tampa the lead only 56 seconds after Chiasson took his seat.
Considering the score only read 1-0 in the first intermission, Washington seemed like it had kept things under control in the opening 20 minutes. After all, the Capitals fired a game-high 14 shots on goal in the first period – all of which were saved by First Star G Andrei Vasilevskiy.
However, that hypothesis was torn to shreds only 1:50 into the second frame, thanks in large part to C Lars Eller‘s unwise penalty for closing his hand on the puck. After only 16 seconds of five-on-four play later, Third Star RW Nikita Kucherov (Hedman and Stamkos) set the Bolts’ lead at 2-0 with a clapper from the right face-off dot.
An easy snap shot is all Hedman (Kucherov and W Ondrej Palat) needed to find his first goal of the 2018 postseason. With Holtby shading towards Kucherov in the right face-off circle, a quick pass allowed Hedman to capitalize on the gaping net and set the score at 3-0 only 1:47 after the Bolts’ first brace.
Keeping the offense going, Washington finally got on the board with 9:29 remaining in the second period. Taking advantage of Hedman’s failed clear, F Chandler Stephenson dished to W Brett Connolly (Stephenson and D Matt Niskanen) to set him up for a solid one-touch snap shot that beat Vasilevskiy stick side.
However, any positive energy caused by that goal was quickly nullified 5:32 later when Point (F Tyler Johnson and D Braydon Coburn) squeaked a wrist shot past Holtby’s right pad to set the score at 4-1.
With the Caps entering the third period trailing by three goals, logic would lead us to believe they would be firing as many shots on goal as possible to try and shrink that gap. Unfortunately for them, Tampa’s defense was not interested in the slightest in allowing many scoring opportunities.
Due in large part to Tampa Bay’s 18 blocks over the course of the entire game, Washington managed only 13 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. D Ryan McDonagh played a large role in that effort with his game-high four blocks in the match.
Of course, the Lightning’s solid defense was at its best during five-on-five play. Once Head Coach Barry Trotz upped the ante a bit by pulling Holtby for the extra attacker, the playoff’s best offense finally found its second goal of the game when F Evgeny Kuznetsov (F T.J. Oshie and Eller) scored a wrister with 3:02 remaining in regulation. However, the 4-2 score held until the end of the contest, securing the Bolts’ first Conference Finals victory since May 22, 2016.
The biggest takeaway from this game is that the Tampa Bay team that many pegged to win the Stanley Cup last summer is still well and alive in this tournament. The Lightning’s offense finally found its footing against Holtby and Washington’s defense, and it was paired by a solid defense that stood tall when the Caps’ offense put the pedal to the metal. If Tampa is allowed to dominate Game 4 like it did Game 3, the Capitals will spoil their solid work at Amalie Arena just like Columbus did against them in the First Round.
Speaking of that Game 4, the Bolts’ opportunity to level the Eastern Finals at 2-2 is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern. The contest will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.