Tag Archives: Matt Niskanen

Down the Frozen River Podcast #109- HOLY [POOP] THE CAPS WON

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).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Other Washington Post helps Capitals secure 3-1 series lead (no Pentagon Papers necessary)

vegas_golden_knights_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

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.

Early in the first period Washington defender, John Carlson, tripped up Vegas forward, Erik Haula, and was assessed a minor penalty.

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.

Vegas blueliner, Colin Miller tripped Lars Eller almost midway through the first period, giving Washington their first power play opportunity of the night at 9:22.

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.

Alex Ovechkin (12) and Matt Niskanen (8) collected the assists on Smith-Pelly’s goal at 19:39.

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.

John Carlson tripped William Karlsson (no relation) early in the second period and the Golden Knights had another chance on the power play. They did not convert.

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).

Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Caps depth dominates in Game 3 win

vegas_golden_knights_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

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.

Past the halfway mark of the first period, Reilly Smith was called for holding Capitals defender, Michal Kempny, and Washington went on their first player advantage of the evening at 11:21.

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.

Ghost penalties have been a hot topic this postseason and none have been more apparent than when Deryk Engelland was penalized for tripping Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom at 7:35.

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).

Down the Frozen River Podcast #107- Stanley Cup Final Preview (Not Live in Vegas)

Nick and Connor contemplate going to Vegas in addition to a complete breakdown, preview and predictions for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

A Win-Win Situation for George McPhee

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.

Lighning Strike Fast at Home due to 4th Line

Unknown-3The 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 Washington Capitals Logominutes 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.

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.

Victor’s Bolts “Heded” in right direction after Game 3 win

 

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.

Caps stun Bolts 6-2 in Game 2

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The Washington Capitals rolled through the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, in Game 2 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final Sunday night at Amalie Arena, earning their 7th road win this postseason (tying a franchise record set in 1998— which is also the last time the Capitals made the Stanley Cup Final).

Braden Holtby made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 save percentage in the win, while Tampa netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 31 out of 37 shots faced for an .838 SV% in the loss.

It didn’t take long for Game 2 to look a lot like Game 1 with the Capitals grabbing an early lead. So early, in fact, that it was only 28 seconds into the action when Tom Wilson (3) redirected a shot from the point past Vasilevskiy.

Wilson’s goal was all thanks to Matt Niskanen’s stellar job keeping the puck in the attacking zone and haphazard shot towards the net that Wilson deflected. As a result, Niskanen (4) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (10) had the assists on the goal that made it, 1-0, Washington.

The noted agitator of the Capitals, Wilson subsequently took the game’s first penalty (a minor for goaltender interference) at 6:48 of the first period after he bumped into Vasilevskiy.

Tampa converted on the power play with a little puck luck as Niskanen blocked a shot, Brayden Point (5) scooped up the loose puck and capitalized on the man advantage with Holtby out of position.

Steven Stamkos (8) and Victor Hedman (8) had the assists on the goal that tied it, 1-1, at 7:08 of the first period.

About a minute later, T.J. Oshie got a stick up high on Hedman, though replay confirmed the Washington forward only grazed the glove of the Lightning defender and that it was actually the puck that caught Hedman in the face. Nevertheless, Oshie was penalized for high-sticking and Tampa went to work on the ensuing advantage.

As the power play was winding down, Nikita Kucherov worked a pass across the ice to Stamkos (5) for a stereotypical Stamkos power play goal— a one-timed slap shot while falling to one knee. The Bolts grabbed a one-goal lead with Stamkos’s power play goal, 2-1, at 10:22 of the first period.

Kucherov (8) and Point (7) had the assists on the goal.

Minutes later, Brooks Orpik and Chris Kunitz mixed things up a bit after the whistle and received matching roughing minors.

Entering the first intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 13-10. The Caps had an advantage in blocked shots (5-4) and hits (15-14), while the Bolts led in takeaways (4-3), giveaways (2-1) and faceoff win percentage (64-36). Washington had yet to see any time on the power play and the Lightning were 2/2 on the skater advantage.

In keeping with the theme of early goals in the period, Devante Smith-Pelly (3) sent a one-timer past Vasilevskiy on the heels of a tremendous saucer pass from Alex Chiasson at 2:50 of the second period to tie the game, 2-2.

Chiasson (1) and John Carlson (10) had the assists on Smith-Pelly’s goal.

Jay Beagle and Cedric Paquette took matching roughing minors 6:33 into the second period and play resumed, 4-on-4, for a couple minutes.

Midway through the second frame, the Capitals finally went on the power play for the first time Sunday night as Yanni Gourde was guilty of hooking Lars Eller. Washington did not convert on the power play and took the game’s next penalty— a minor for interference.

After killing Michal Kempny’s interference minor, the Capitals surged in momentum in the closing minutes of the second period.

Eller (5) scored on a point blank redirected pass from Jakub Vrana and Washington pulled back in front, 3-2, leading for just the second time of the night. Vrana (4) had the assist on Eller’s goal at 18:58 of the period.

Almost a minute later, Vasilevskiy was guilty of tripping Andre Burakovsky behind the play and Ondrej Palat was sent to the sin bin to serve the Lightning netminder’s minor.

With ten seconds left on the clock until the second intermission, Washington only needed seven of them to pocket a power play goal and make it a two-goal game.

Kuznetsov (8) threw the puck towards the goal from the goal line to the left of Vasilevskiy as the Lightning goaltender attempted to poke the puck free from the low slot. Instead, Tampa’s goalie actually caught a chunk of the puck off the blocker and the rubber biscuit had eyes of its own, sliding through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole into the twine for the power play goal.

Alex Ovechkin (9) and Eller (5) had the assists and the Caps led, 4-2, at 19:57 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play, Washington was ahead, 4-2, on the scoreboard and, 23-21, in shots on goal. Both teams had nine blocked shots aside and three giveaways each. The Capitals also led in hits (27-23), while Tampa led in takeaways (7-3) and faceoff win percentage (63-37) after two periods. Washington was 1/2 on the power play and Tampa was 2/3 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

The Capitals have outscored the Lightning, 5-0, in second periods alone so far this series.

Washington got out to a quick start in the third period, finishing a two-on-one to go up three-goals when Ovechkin (10) notched his tenth goal of the postseason courtesy of a pass from Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov (11) and Wilson (6) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it, 5-2, Capitals at 3:34 of the third period.

Shortly thereafter, Kempny cross checked Paquette, but the Lightning were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Brett Connolly (3) scored in the vulnerable couple of minutes after the Tampa power play, giving Washington a four-goal lead, 6-2 at 12:57 of the third. Eller (6) and Carlson (11) had the assists on Connolly’s goal.

Halfway through the final frame, Alex Killorn and Connolly got into a shoving match, resulting in matching minor penalties for roughing at 13:09.

After being a victim to a questionable, uncalled, trip by Connolly, Kucherov retaliated on his way to the bench in the final minute of regulation and was handed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

At the final horn, the Capitals had sealed the deal on a 6-2 victory on the road, taking a 2-0 series lead back home for Game 3 at Capital One Arena on Tuesday. Washington dominated Game 2, leading in shots on goal (37-35), blocked shots (16-10) and hits (38-33), while the Lightning led in faceoff win percentage (56-44). The Caps finished the night 1/3 on the power play, while Tampa went 2/4.

Washington has outscored the Lightning, 10-4, through the first two games of the series.

Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN, while fans in Canada can watch the action on CBC, SN or 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.