Washington Capitals Steal Game 2: Tampa Bay Lightning Hit the Road Down 2-0 in the ECF

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Game 2
TAMPA, FL - MAY 13: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with his teammates after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 13, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. The Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning with a score of 6 to 2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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While Game 1 went entirely as desired for the Washington Capitals, Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final wasn’t as straightforward. Three shots found the back of the net through just the first 11 minutes of the night, two by the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, Washington successfully overcame the early deficit with FIVE unanswered goals. The Caps won by a final score of 6-2, giving them a 2-0 series lead.

Game Two Final Score: Caps 6 – Bolts 2

Period-by-Period Recap

Just 28 seconds after the puck dropped in the first, Tom Wilson put the Capitals on the board. Evgeny Kuznetsov threw a shot wide that caromed around the wall, but thanks to a sly pinch from Matt Niskanen, it stayed in the offensive zone. Niskanen immediately put the puck on net, and Wilson deflected it on its way to the net and past Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

However, the lead didn’t last long. Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos potted back-to-back power-play goals seven and ten minutes in, respectively. The Lightning held the third best power play percentage in the league this year (23.9%), and they’ve been even deadlier (26.8% entering Game 2) in the post-season. On the other end, Washington began the game with a 32.6% success rate on the power-play but did not get an opportunity to show their worth in the first. Tampa Bay took their first lead of the series to the locker room with them.

Second Period: The Tide Turns

Pending RFA Devante Smith-Pelly cashed in early in the second for his third goal of the post-season to tie the game 2-2. He’s been making a strong case for a contract extension, chipping in tremendously so far in each round of the postseason from the Capitals bottom six. The goal came on the third odd-man rush of the game for Washington, a one-timer shot off a two-on-one feed from Alex Chiasson.

The Lightning responded admirably with a flurry of chances; a two-on-one of their own, followed by a couple close calls and a shot off the post by Tyler Johnson. Unfortunately for them, the Caps would regain the lead with two additional goals late in the period. With 62 seconds remaining, Lars Eller made it 3-2 Washington, and then with just three seconds left Evgeny Kuznetsov extended it to 4-2. Kuznetsov’s was a power-play goal, scored after Vasilevskiy tripped Andre Burakovsky on his way by the net.

Third Period

Rather than sit back, the Capitals continued pouring it on in the third. Alex Ovechkin padded the lead three minutes in, and then Brett Connolly officially made it a blowout just before the 13-minute mark. At this point, Amalie Arena began to empty as the end result became inevitable.

Referee Controversy

Both teams left in the East have excellent power play units, so it undoubtedly best serves both to avoid the penalty box. Washington had to learn this the hard way after the Lightning went two for two in the first period; however, a cloud of doubt hung over both calls.

Tom Wilson‘s first-period penalty for goaltender interference came on a play in which he was clearly hooked on his way to the net. While that may not have directly caused the contact, there definitely could have been a penalty on both teams. Furthermore, T.J. Oshie actually didn’t actually commit a high sticking infraction. Rather, he deflected the puck in mid-air which in turn caught Victor Hedman in the face. To add insult to injury, both these questionable calls handed Tampa Bay their first two goals of the night.

They did make up some ground on special teams with that power-play goal after Vasilevskiy took an unnecessary tripping penalty with just ten seconds remaining in the second period. They also scored a bunch of other goals, so at least for their sanity the questionable calls early did not change the final outcome much.

Next Up: Game 3

As the series shifts to Washington D.C., goaltending seems to be the most intriguing item to view. Braden Holtby is out-dueling his counterpart in Vasilevskiy handily.  Vasilevskiy, after being pulled in game one, surrendered six goals in game two (including that power play goal he tipped between his own legs after he himself took the penalty). This brought his total up to ten goals against through five periods of action in this series. If Tampa Bay has any shot in this series, it will require their goaltending to improve.

On the other side of things, the Capitals continue to be dominant on the road in the playoffs. They are now 7-1 in opposing barns, but just 3-3 at home. Tonight’s game was as one-sided as it gets, and all momentum is on their side. As Eddie Olczyk said of the Capitals on live TV after the final buzzer, “at even strength, it’s not even close…this is textbook”. Washington successfully stole home-ice advantage away from the Lightning by winning both road games to kick off the series, and it will be extremely difficult at this point for the Bolts to recover.

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