The Washington Capitals kept their hopes of a Stanley Cup alive on Monday night, forcing a Game 7 in their Eastern Conference final series with a 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Capital One Arena.
This was a hard, closely fought game from the first puck drop. The teams traded momentum, the Caps feeling it early and the Lightning grabbing the advantage late in the period, but neither team could solve the other’s goaltender in the first 20 minutes. There was not a lot of work for either netminder, the teams combining for only 14 shots in the opening period. Washington had eight shots on goal, Tampa Bay had six.
The Caps killed off an early shorthanded situation, Jay Beagle going off on a hooking call, and it was the only power play of the period until late in the frame. With under seven minutes to go in the period, Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburnwas sent off on a hooking call. It was the break the Caps needed. Nicklas Backstrom circled out from the right wing corner along the wall and played catch with Evgeny Kuznetsov at the goal line. When Backstrom took the return pass from Kuznetsov, he slid down the wall to create a passing lane, and when Alex Killorn reversed his stick to defend against a pass to the top of the zone, Backstrom had his opening. He slid a pass between Killorn and Ryan McDonagh to T.J. Oshie for a one-timer that beat goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy on the glove side to make it 1-0, 15:12 into the period.
That would be how the teams went to their respective locker rooms after 40 minutes, the Caps holding a decided 23-14 edge in shots on goal.
One had a feeling that the team scoring the next goal would win, and mid-way through the period, we had our answer. Hustle was the keyword on the scoring play. It started (and keep this in mind) with Devante Smith-Pelly chipping the puck out from below the goal line and out of the Olympia corner in his own end through center ice. Chandler Stephenson chased Coburn down ice and forced the linesman to wave off icing as the puck slowed at the Lightning goal line. Stephenson hounded Coburn off the puck behind the Lightning net, and Jay Beagle gathered it up in the corner to Vasilevskiy’s left. Begale sent it back in the direction from which it came, to Stephenson below the goal line. Stephenson backhanded a pass out to Smith-Pelly – the player who started the play 190 feet in the other direction – and he snapped a shot under Vasilevskiy’s pad to make it 2-0 at the 10:02 mark of the period.
The Caps clamped down from there, including a critical penalty kill just minutes after Smith-Pelly’s goal, and Oshie wrapped up the scoring with an empty net goal with 50 seconds left to send the teams off to a Game 7 on Wednesday night.
-- The Caps extended an odd record of never having lost an elimination game on home ice in games other than a Game 7. They are 6-0 in such games.
-- This was Braden Holtby’s 71st appearance this season, regular season and playoffs. This was his first shutout of the season.
-- This was T.J. Oshie’s second career multi-goal playoff game on home ice with the Caps. His other one was a hat trick (including the overtime game-winner) in a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the 2016 Eastern Conference semifinal.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists, his 23rd career multi-point playoff game. The Caps are 15-8 in those games (seven of the eight losses were in overtime).
-- Devante Smith-Pelly recorded his eighth career playoff goal. His teams have won seven times when he recorded a goal.
-- Hits can be a bit arbitrary in their award, but the Caps finished with a 39-19 edge in credited hits. Most times that is a reflection of the other team dominating possession, but in this one it seemed more a case of the Caps imposing their will on the game.
-- Lars Eller has had a difficult series, and he did not record a point in this game, but he was a symbol of the idea, don’t be a liability, play your game. In 16 minutes of ice time, he had three shots on goal, six shot attempts, three hits, and he won 12 of 18 faceoffs. That was a solid third line center performance.
-- Here is a number to keep in mind for Game 7: 16:55. That was Alex Ovechkin’s ice time. In only one other game in this postseason did Ovechkin have less ice time, that in the Caps’ 6-3 Game 6 series-clinching win against Columbus in the first round (16:08). He might have a lot more in the tank.
-- Brooks Orpik isn’t going to put up big – or many – offensive numbers, but his performance was “Orpikian” – 19:38 in ice time, a fight, six hits, a blocked shot, and he finished plus-1.
-- The Caps were solid down the middle in this game, right down to Jay Beagle, who finished with an assist, plus-2, two takeaways, two blocked shots, and he won 13 of 16 draws. A solid fourth-line center effort.
In the end…
The Caps did what they had to do – they gave themselves a chance. They did it in Game 6 by dictating pace and style for most of the game, and they got perhaps Braden Holtby’s best game of the season. It was certainly his biggest clutch performance. In a game like this, in a situation like this, not everyone needs to be a star, but you can’t be a liability out there. In that respect, the Caps were a seamless unit of 18 skaters. There were few holes and few opportunities for Tampa Bay to gather much in the way of momentum. Everyone played in their lane, which made for as solid a “team” effort as the club displayed this season. Do it one more time, and the Caps will be heading west to open the next round.