Capitals and Lightning meet for spot in the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday
Washington, DC- The history of the Washington Capitals is filled with painful elimination games on home ice. From the 1980’s until last season, the Capitals have created new and painful ways to lose important games. The script appeared to be different for 2018, when the Caps toppled their chief tormentors, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and reached the 3rd round for the first time since 1998. The new script continued to unfold with two road wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning to open the Eastern Conference Finals.
However, games three, four, and five went to the Bolts and the story appeared to revert to the Capitals’ regular form. Entering game six on Monday night, Caps fans nervously filed into Capital One Arena hoping that their team would not create another disappointment. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for Jon Cooper and the Lightning, the Capitals played their best game of the series.
The opening frame was, as Cooper explained, “A nothing period.” Washington won the shot battle 8-6. Both teams got chances, and both goaltenders stopped every shot. The most important outcome of the first period was the established tone. The officials did not call a penalty in the opening frame, allowing for a more physical game. The Capitals took advantage entering the second period.
Washington came out of the tunnel buzzing. They outshot Tampa 15-8 in the period and gave the fans plenty to cheer about. Andrei Vasilevskiy held to his normal form, stopping almost every shot. However, a penalty tilted momentum fully to Washington’s side. With only 6:11 left in the second, Braydon Coburn took a holding minor. The Caps went to work and thought they scored when the horn went off. The puck bounced out and the Caps played on. This time, TJ Oshie snapped home a puck with 4:48 left in the period. The building rocked as Oshie ended an 0-7 drought on the power play and gave DC the 1-0 lead.
DC again controlled the pace of the third period. They only outshot Tampa 11-10, but the Capitals limited the Lightning’s quality of chances. Meanwhile, the offense clicked and sank the Lightning. Immediately following a Tampa chance, the Capital’s fourth line averted an icing when Chandler Stevenson won a race to the puck behind Vasilevskiy. Stevenson and Jay Beagle combined to pass the puck to a charging Devante Smith-Pelly in the slot who fired away to extend the Capitals lead to 2-0. Tampa got quality chances of their own, but could not answer. Brayden Holtby played his best game of the series. The 28 year old Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, native recorded a 24 save shutout. Oshie added an empty net goal for his second of the night and the Capitals forced game seven.
The shutout was Brayden Holtby’s first of the 2017-2018 year, regular season or playoffs. In fact, it was his first shutout since April 5th 2017, when he stopped 24 New York Ranger shots at the end of that regular season.
Devante Smith-Pelly played his best game of the postseason, scoring the backbreaking goal and recording five of the team’s 39 hits. Only Tom Wilson had more, six. The Capitals out hit the Lightning 39-19 for the game.
With his two goals, TJ Oshie extends his point streak to four games.
Andrei Vasilevskiy did his part, saving 31 of the 33 shots he faced.
Steven Stamkos was disappointed after the effort from his team. “They were the more desperate team. They played like it might be their last game. We played like it might be, it might not be. The desperation level needs to be higher for us. First period, we had some pushes, they had some pushes. For whatever reason, in the second period, we were just a step behind. They got some momentum from that.”
While Stamkos was disappointed, Cooper went another step. “We were no good. We didn’t play with near the desperation we needed. Was it a fairly even game? There’s no question. But what were the hits, 39-19? Someone was engaged and someone wasn’t.”
With a game seven looming, Cooper did take time to express confidence regarding his team at home. “You have an advantage at home. You get to squeak your matchups, and you’ve got 20,000 people pulling for you. There are parts of the game that if you give me one game to play, I’d rather play at home. They earned it in the regular season and now we need it. This group’s been through these games before. I’ve been so proud to coach this group. Every time they get pushed against the wall, they answer. And we’re getting pushed again. It’s time to answer.”
For the fourth consecutive year, the Eastern Conference Finals will go the distance. The Lightning won in 2015 against the Rangers and lost in 2016 to Pittsburgh. Tampa’s overall game seven record is 6-2. Washington has never played in a game seven this late in the postseason. Their overall record in this game of the series is 4-10.
The series concludes on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena, in Tampa. Puck drops at 8pm Eastern.