Home ice advantage? That doesn’t seem to be the case in the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals. The Caps have won both games in Tampa, so in order to stay alive, the Bolts needed to snag a win in Washington. Teams that have lost the first two games at home in the Conference Finals have only ever come back to win twice, so the odds were stacked against the Lightning going into game three.
Right off the cuff, Tampa was playing like this was a must-win game. The defense was tight giving up low-quality chances of buying the offense time to open the scoring. The opening goal would come at fourteen minutes in on the powerplay, courtesy of Steven Stamkos. He’d blast a one-timer from the right side faceoff dot past the glove arm of Braden Holtby for the 1-0 lead. The Caps outshot Tampa 14-10 in the opening frame but trailed 1-0 after one, and things didn’t exactly get any better for them in the second.
I think the moral of the story for this game is don’t give Tampa powerplay opportunities. Two minutes into the second Nikita Kucherov would get a powerplay goal almost identical to Stamkos’ earlier tally on the opposite side of Holtby. Now up 2-0, the Bolts weren’t done there because a couple of minutes later Victor Hedman made it 3-0. There was no help for Holtby on the play as Hedman was left alone in the slot with a yawning cage to deposit the puck. The crowd would get something to cheer about midway through the period as Brett Connolly would put the Caps on the board.
Andrei Vasilevskiy could do little to stop the one-timer as it was perfectly placed over the shoulder cutting the lead to 3-1. This didn’t seem to sit well with the Lightning as they’d restore the three-goal lead with four minutes to go in the second. Brayden Point would put a squeaker past Holtby on the short side making it 4-1 after two. Washington again had the edge in shots at 11-8 but wasn’t getting many good opportunities, and with only a period to go things weren’t looking up for the Caps.
Not much happened in the third until the final three minutes. With the goalie pulled Evgeny Kuznetsov would put the puck in the net on an impossible angle. The shot was taken around the goal line and went right under the bar for the 4-2 score. This is as close as the Caps would come however as the barrage in the third came up short for the 4-2 Tampa win. Not from lack of trying however as the Caps again outshot Tampa 13-5 in the third and 38-23 in the game.
Game four will be Thursday, May 17th in Washington where we’ll either have a tied series or make the following games for Tampa all elimination games.