With the Eastern Conference Final shifting to Washington, DC for Games 3 and 4, the Tampa Bay Lightning needed a spark. They needed to clean up a lot of issues both offensively and defensively. Some old habits from the end of the regular season crept back into their game during Games 1 and 2, causing them to fall behind 0-2 in the series. Whether it was their depth or their big names, the Lightning desperately needed someone to step up and make things happen.
Fortunately for the Bolts, their big names came to the rescue. As a result, the ECF appears to be much tighter than it was through the first two games.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are still alive and surging in this best-of-seven series, winning a critical Game 3 by a score of 4-2 at Capital One Arena. For the first time in three games, the Bolts looked like the team that led the Eastern Conference with 113 points during the regular season. While Tampa Bay has been praised throughout the playoffs for their depth scoring, it was the stars who shone tonight. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden, Point, and Victor Hedman each scored, while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 36 of 38 shots. Washington received goals from Brett Connolly and Evgeny Kuznetsov, with Braden Holtby taking the loss in net after allowing four goals on 23 shots.
In a series where the Lightning had been dominated in the neutral zone, their play was vastly improved in that area tonight.
Another big story from Games 1 and 2 of the series were all of the odd-man rushes the Bolts had allowed. Tampa Bay did a much better job in Game 3 ending up with four odd-man rushes of their own tonight, double from what they had in the first two games of the series combined.
While the Bolts continued to take advantage of power play chances, finishing with two power play goals, their penalty kill came up big after being a liability earlier in the series. In the opening period, Anton Stralman took an ill-advised boarding penalty, but Tampa Bay’s PK unit came up with a timely kill.
For the first time in this series, the Bolts notched the first goal by taking advantage of a power play.
Stamkos unleashed one of his patented rocket one-timers from the left circle, beating Holtby for his third PP goal of the series, putting Tampa Bay up 1-0, a lead they took into the first intermission.
However, the Bolts broke the game open early in the second period, as Kucherov added to the Lighting’s lead with a power play goal in the second period, a big one-timer of his own from the right circle. Only 1:47 later, Hedman tallied his first goal of the postseason and just the Bolts’ second at 5-on-5 of the series, collecting a pass in the slot from Kucherov and firing a shot into the open side of the net, making it 3-0.
While Connolly cut the Lightning’s lead to 3-1, Point extended it to 4-1 when he fired a shot from the slot that beat Holtby to the short side for his sixth of the playoffs. Although the Lightning were still allowing Washington some speed through the neutral zone, they significantly cut down on turnovers that had cost them. In addition, the Capitals’ top center, Nicklas Backstrtom, remained out with a hand injury and for the first time in the series, it appeared that the Capitals noticeably missed him.
Heading into Game 3, some people began to have doubts about Vasilevskiy in the Lightning’s net after he gave up 10 goals in Games 1 and 2.
Fortunately for the Lightning, the Vezina Trophy finalist returned to form and was outstanding tonight. He began the game making big stops early, and didn’t stop coming up huge. When Tampa Bay needed a big save from their netminder, they got it time and time again. Once the Lightning’s lead extended to three goals, the outcome didn’t appear to be in much doubt. Despite this, Washington kept pressing, looking for a goal to give them some kind of spark. Kuznetsov fired a shot top-shelf past Vasilevskiy late in the third period to make it 4-2, and the Caps continued to press. Although Washington still needed a pair of goals, Vasilevskiy slammed the door shut again, preserving the victory for the Bolts.
Game 4 of this series resumes in our nation’s capital on Thursday night, as the puck drops at 8 pm.
-With a goal and two assists, Hedman now has a point streak of eight games, a new Lightning playoff record. Hedman’s 12 career playoff power play assists is also a new Lightning record.
-Tampa Bay improved to 14-9 all-time in Game 3’s and 8-5 in Game 3’s on the road.
-The Lightning finished 2-for-5 on the power play, while the Capitals were 0-for-3.
-With his power play goal tonight, Stamkos tied Marty St. Louis’s team record for most career playoff PP goals with 10, and surpassed St. Louis for first in team history for most playoff power play points with 25.
-Tampa Bay has scored a power play goal in eight straight games, tying the team record for most consecutive playoff games with a power pay goal that was set in 2004.
-With 21 shots on goal between them, Alex Ovechkin (9) and Kuznetsov (12) registered more than half of the Capitals’ total shots on goal for the game (38).
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 36 of 38 shots.
2nd Star: Victor Hedman – Scored the game-winning goal and added two assists.
3rd Star: Nikita Kucherov – One goal, one assist, and a team-high six shots on goal.
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