Saturday, May 19, 2018

Eastern Conference Final -- Game 5: Tampa Bay Lightning 3 - Washington Capitals 2

Things started poorly right out of the gate for the Washington Capitals in Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.  They dug themselves an early hole and ran out of time before they could climb out of it, dropping a 3-2 decision to leave themselves on the brink of elimination going into Game 6 in Washington.

First Period

It took the Lightning just 19 seconds to put the Capitals in a hole.  With the Lightning getting an early territorial advantage off a Capitals neutral zone turnover, Ryan Callahan smacked the puck off Dmitry Orlov in the left wing circle, where it found its way right onto the stick of Cedric Paquette.  He wasted no time in snapping a shot past goalie Braden Holtby and the Lightning were off and running. 

Mid-way through the period, Tampa Bay struck again.  Orlov was nudged off the puck by Steven Stamkos in the neutral zone, and with Orlov splayed on the ice, Nikita Kucherov grabbed the puck and darted into the offensive end.  He fed Ondrej Palat filling in down the middle, and Palat snapped a shot past Holtby’s blocker to make it 2-0 9:04 into the period.  This would end the first period scoring.

Tampa Bay had 13 shots on goal to the Caps’ four (three by defensemen), and they had a 29-8 edge in shot attempts.  Twelve Capital skaters did not have a shot attempt, including the whole top line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson.

Second Period

Tampa Bay struck in the first minute again, this time when Anton Stralman walked around defenseman Matt Niskanen and curled to the net, his shot popping up into the air.  Callahan swooped in, and the puck ricocheted off his right hand over a prone Holtby, and it was 3-0 just 33 seconds into the period.

Evgeny Kuznetsov got one back for the Caps, finishing off a generally good all-around shift.  The Caps worked tha puck along the right wing wall until it came out to Matt Niskanen at the right point.  Niskanen backed off to create a shooting lane, and he fired the puck past Stamkos’ left leg toward the Lightning net.  Kuznetsov, angling in from the right wing circle, got his stick on the puck as it was sailing by and redirected it off the near post behind goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and in to make it 3-1, 4:21 into the period.  Despite more pressure applied by the Caps over the course of the period, this was the only puck they could sneak past Vasilevskiy.

Third Period

With a two-goal lead going into the period, the Lightning were looking to hang on.  They played like it.  They exerted little pressure in the offensive zone and tried to get in the way of every shot attempt in their own end.  The strategy nearly backfired late in the period when Alex Ovechkin one-timed a pass from John Carlson past Vasilevskiy with 1:36 left in regulation.  That would be as close as the Caps would get, though, and the Lightning took their third win in a row in this series, 3-2.

Other stuff…

-- When Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal in the second period, he set a franchise record of 22 points in a single postseason, topping the 21 points that Alex Ovechkin had in 2009. And, he did it on his 26th birthday.  Ovechkin’s goal gave him 21 points in this postseason, tying his career best.

-- Think the Caps were pressing late?  Alex Ovechkin averaged 43 seconds per shift in the first period and 52 seconds per shift in the second.  He averaged 1:07 per shift in the third period.  He skated 6:49 of the last 10:15 of the game and 4:28 of the last 4:48 of the game.

-- Ovechkin did not record a shot on goal until there was 3:38 left in regulation.  He had three shots on goal in that last 3:38, the last of which was his goal.

-- The Caps had 30 shots on goal for the game; John Carlson had eight of them.

-- After posting 29 shot attempts in the first period, Tampa Bay had only 19 shot attempts over the last 40 minutes.

-- Nicklas Backstrom, despite his wonky hand, won 12 of 17 faceoffs.  He has won 18 of 26 draws taken in this series (69.2 percent).

-- This was the first game in this postseason that the Caps did not have a power play.  It was the eighth time in team history they did not have a single power play chance in a game, the first since Game 1 in the Eastern Conference semifinal against Pittsburgh last season.  The Caps are 2-6 in such games and have never won such a game when played on the road.  The oddest part of this string in the fabric of history is that of the eight postseason games played without the benefit of a power play, four have come against the New York Islanders.

-- The Caps had more hits (35) than shots on goal (30).  Then again, so did Tampa (24 to 22).

-- When Tampa Bay got their third goal, it was a sign.  In losing this game, the Caps are now 4-7 when allowing three or more goals in this postseason, 6-0 when allowing two or fewer.

-- Braden Holtby now has a streak of the sort he has never had before.  In stopping 19 of 22 shots (.864 save percentage) he now has three straight games with a save percentage under .900.  He stopped 54 of 64 shots over those three games (.844).  He has a lifetime record of 10-9 in the postseason when facing fewer than 25 shots in a full game.

In the end…

The series now enters its elimination phase, and it really becomes more of which Caps team shows up in Games 6 and 7.  If the team that skated the third period of Game 5 shows up and skates that way for 60 minutes in each contest, they can (and probably should) win this series.  If the team that skated the first 20 minutes in Game 5 opens the same way in Game 6, then Tuesday will be the first day of another long offseason.