Things started poorly for the Caps, and it was a hole from which they could not escape, falling 6-3 to the league leaders.
The Battle of the Titans got off to a poor start for the Caps, who found themselves behind by a pair of goals before the game was 11 minutes old, victimized by goals 1:58 apart mid-way through the period. Tyler Johnson got the Lightning on the board first when he and Braden Point broke in on a 2-on-1 rush. Point fed Johnson on his left, and Johnson snapped a shot that appeared to click of the inside of both of goalie Braden Holtby’s pads before settling behind the goal line to make it 1-0 at the 8:35 mark.
Less than two minute later the Lightning got a break when Alex Killorn settled the puck along the left wing boards and flung it at the Caps’ net. The puck hit defenseman Dmitry Orlov in the right leg and ricocheted past Holtby’s blocker to make it 2-0, 10:33 into the period.
John Carlson got the Caps back into the game on a goal that goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy might want back. Alex Ovechkin separated Braydon Coburn from the puck behind the Lightningand worked it around the corner wall, where it found its way to Evgeny Kuznetsov. From above the right wing circle, Kuznetsov spun and fired the puck at the net, but it was blocked out to Carlson on the left side. With open ice in front of him, Carlson stepped up and fired a shot that beat Vasilevskiy cleanly on the near side to make it 2-1 at the 12:06 mark.
Tampa Bay regained the two-goal lead less than four minutes later when Killorn bull rushed down the slot, knocking defenseman Nick Jensen aside, and getting two shots off on Holtby, scoring on the blocker side on the rebound 15:56 into the period. That was how the teams went to the first intermission.
-- The Caps had an early lead in shots and shot attempts, but by the end of the period, Tampa out-shot the Caps, 16-9, and they out-attempted them, 23-17.
-- Five of the Caps’ nine shots came from defensemen: Michal Kempny (two), John Carlson (two), and Dmitry Orlov (one).
-- Tampa out-hit the Caps, 14-9, and they were not charged with a giveaway.
-- Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin had three hits apiece to lead the Caps.
The Caps opened the second period by killing off a Tampa power play that started as a 5-on-3 for 1:28 and ended with a 5-on-4 for 12 seconds. That would be what passed for suspense until the Caps were awarded a power play just short of six minutes into the period. Washington capitalized on the man advantage on an odd play. John Carlson took a shot from the point that appeared to hit T.J. Oshie in the back, the puck caroming to the left wing circle where Alex Ovechkin was waiting. Ovechkin wasted no time snapping the puck past Vasilevsky on the near side to make it a 3-2 game at the 7:33 mark.
Tampa got another power play late in the period when Evgeny Kuznetsov was whistled for a slashing penalty, but the Caps killed off that chance, and then they earned one of their own late in the period, courtesy of a Ryan McDonagh roughing call. However, the Caps did not convert on the first 1:11 of the man advantage, so it would carry over into the third period.
-- The Caps out-shot Tampa Bay, 13-5, in the second period and out-attempted them, 25-6.
-- Through two periods, the Caps held the Lightning to one power play shot on goal in 4:00 of power play time (J.T. Miller).
-- Travis Boyd and Andre Burakovsky skated only six shifts apiece through two periods.
The period opened with the Caps on the last minute-plus of a power play, but they failed to convert. It was a lost chance they would regret as the Lightning extended their lead in the third minute of the period, Erik Cernak beating Holtby on what looked like a stoppable shot to make it 4-2, 2:45 into the period.
With the clock ticking in the second half of the period, the Caps got back within a goal. A Dmitry Orlov drive went wide to Vasilevskiy’s right, caromed off the end wall, and rebounded out the other side where Ovechkin was waiting. He swatted the puck off the near post and behind Vasilevskiy to make it 4-3 at the 12:56 mark.
Washington got a chance to tie the game late when Ondrej Palat took a tripping penalty to put the Caps on their fourth power play of the game. The Caps would come up empty, though, and the teams played on.
Jakub Vrana was a ping away from tying the game with under four minutes left, ringing a shot off the post, but that would be as close as the Caps would get to tying the game. Killorn completed his hat trick in the last minute into an empty net, and Yanni Gourde wrapped things up with another empty netter in the last second to provide the final margin, 6-3, Bolts.
-- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 246th career power play goal, tying Phil Esposito for fifth-place all-time and one behind Luc Robitaille for fourth place.
-- It was Ovechkin’s 131st multi-goal game of his career, tying Teemu Selanne for second place since 1987-1988, trailing only Brett Hull (158).
-- Alex Killorn’s hat trick was the first by a Tampa Bay player in 126 games played against the Caps in franchise history.
-- Ovechkin had seven shots on goal and 16 shot attempts. Would not be surprised if he can barely lift his arms.
-- Tampa Bay out-shot the Caps, 35-33, but the Caps out-attempted them, 62-50.
-- John Carlson had a goal and an assist, his 81st multi-point game as a Cap, fifth all-time among Capital defensemen.
-- Tom Wilson had what, for him lately, was an uncharacteristic game – no shots on goal, one shot attempt, seven hits, 12 minutes in penalties, and a minus-2.
-- The last time the Caps faced the Lightning, Andre Burakovsky scored two goals in 11 minutes of ice time in the Caps’ 4-0 series clinching playoff win last spring. On this evening, he got nine shifts, 7:30 in ice time, and recorded two shots on goal with no points.
-- The Caps held Tampa Bay to three shots on goal in six minutes of power play time.
-- That was the first time in almost three months (since November 27th) that Tampa Bay failed to score a power play goal on home ice while getting four or more opportunities.
In the end…
The score looks bad, but the Caps were a coat of paint on a pipe from tying the game late. Add in the general orneriness of the teams, and this looked like Game 1 of a ten-game playoff series – the three the teams will play in the regular season and the seven they could play later. Tampa Bay looked in stretches like the 55-win team they are – deep, balanced, skilled, and fast. But there were stretches when the Caps were every bit up to the task of stopping them and exerting pressure of their own. This is going to be a fun ride over the next two weeks with the teams meeting twice more. Buckle up.