After losing three of their previous four games, the Tampa Bay Lightning began a crucial three-game road trip in a building where they haven’t had much success over the last decade. Heading into Tuesday’s contest against the Washington Capitals, the Lightning had won just once in their previous 12 visits to Capital One Arena.
Thanks to the work of Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning (40-17-3) found a way to win in what had become a house of horrors over the years. Point collected two goals, while Kucherov used his patented “shot that’s not really a shot” move to add an insurance goal as Tampa Bay held off the Capitals (34-19-7) by a 4-2 score. The victory was the Bolts’ first in DC since a 1-0 shootout victory on April 13, 2014, ending a five-game losing streak in our nation’s capital while taking the season series from the Caps by going 2-1-0 against the Metropolitan Division leaders.
Tuesday’s win also gave the Lightning the distinction of being the first team to 40 victories. They now sit one point ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the entire NHL. However, Boston’s 3-2 victory over Edmonton on Tuesday night still leaves the Lightning only one point ahead of the Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Chris Kunitz added a goal while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 shots for his league-leading 35th victory. Braden Holtby took the loss for the Capitals, who were playing the second half of back-to-back games. Washington picked up goals from Lars Eller and Alex Ovechkin, out-shooting the Bolts 37-19.
The Lightning couldn’t have asked for a better start to the opening period.
Just 34 seconds into the contest, Washington’s Brett Connolly hit Dan Girardi up high. Not only was it a high hit, but Girardi didn’t have the puck. As a result, Tampa Bay earned the game’s first power play. With only four seconds remaining on that man-advantage, Point converted a brilliant feed from Ryan Callahan for a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead at 2:30. Yanni Gourde earned the secondary assist, starting the play off by forcing a turnover.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) February 21, 2018
Although Tampa Bay and Washington each had eight shots in the first 20 minutes, the Bolts largely carried the flow of play. Much of that effort occurred due to the play of the line of Kunitz, Vlad Namestnikov, and Callahan. Recently put together, that trio proved to be unstoppable in the opening period. Kunitz notched his 10th of the season with four minutes left on the clock, tipping in a point shot from Andrej Sustr for a 2-0 Lightning lead.
However, the Lightning weren’t done, as Point took a long pass from Anton Stralman and turned on the jets. Blowing past three Capitals, Point beat Holtby for his 23rd of the season just 1:52 after Kunitz’s goal.
— NHL (@NHL) February 21, 2018
Both teams traded solid chances over the first three quarters of the second period, with Washington getting one goal back.
Early on, Ovechkin nearly found himself on a breakaway, only to see Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman catch up and poke the puck away at an opportune time. Ovechkin created another chance by curl and dragging the puck around Girardi leading to a shot that Vasilevskiy turned aside, which led to a rebound chance for Tom Wilson that Vasilevskiy also stopped.
At the 7:50 mark, Namestnikov went to the box for tripping Wilson. To add injury to insult, Namestnikov also needed an ice bag on his hand after blocking a shot during the delayed penalty. Adding further insult on top of the injury, Eller notched his 12th goal of the season at 9:32 on the ensuing power play. Eller looked a lot like Ovechkin on that goal, only from the opposite side of the ice. Ovechkin, much like the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos, loves the one-timer from the left circle. However, Eller buried a one-timer from the right circle, cutting Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-1 as Dimitry Orlov and Connolly earned the assists.
Both teams traded chances over the next couple of minutes, but the Capitals turned up the pressure during final five minutes of the period. Vasilevskiy was forced to make multiple quality saves, preserving the Bolts’ two-goal lead at the intermission. Washington out-shot Tampa Bay 14-5 in the second period.
The Capitals carried over their dominant second period by controlling play in the third period.
Early in the third period, Ovechkin nearly potted a goal when he deflected a point shot by John Carlson. Unfortunately for him, Vasilevskiy came up with the save. Soon after, Gourde forced a turnover and fed the puck to Stamkos, who cut in on Holtby. However, Holtby alertly poked the puck away to thwart the opportunity for the Bolts.
Following a slashing penalty on Callahan at 4:36, the Caps got the second power play of the night. They turned the opportunity into plenty of good looks at the Lightning net. TJ Oshie ripped a one-timer from the high slot that Vasilevskiy denied, followed by an Ovechkin one-timer that barely missed the net. Despite the close calls, the Lightning’s penalty killers escaped unscathed.
Point nearly collected a hat trick as he cut to the net, but Holtby came up with a big save by shrugging the shot away with his arm. However, it would turn out to be one of the Lightning’s few solid scoring chances in the first half of the third period, as the Caps continued to turn up the forecheck and generated more offensive chances.
The final 10 minutes of this game belonged to each teams’ Russian superstars.
Ovechkin, who finished with a game-high nine shots on goal, finally broke through with 8:58 remaining, beating Vasilevskiy from a sharp angle for his league-leading 36th goal of the season. Just like that, the Caps cut the Bolts’ lead to 3-2 and continued carrying play. Kucherov turned the puck over at his own blue line, leading to an extended shift by Washington in Tampa Bay’s zone. However, the Lightning’s star winger more than made up for it just 1:56 after Ovechkin’s goal:
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) February 21, 2018
Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s the exact same move that Kucherov used to beat Holtby during last month’s All-Star Game in Tampa. It’s also the same move he used in a shootout last season against Buffalo’s Robin Lehner. Here’s another look at both last month’s goal and tonight’s goal in the same GIF.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) February 21, 2018
Upon further review, one could make a case that Kucherov possibly bobbled the puck before it slipped through Holtby and into the net. But then again, Holtby was visibly frustrated after Tuesday night’s goal, reacting as if he couldn’t believe he got suckered in by the same move. Kucherov’s team-leading 32nd goal gave the Lightning a 4-2 lead, a much-needed insurance tally that gave the Bolts breathing room after the Caps had been knocking on the door.
Tampa Bay’s road trip resumes on Thursday night in Ottawa when they take on the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre. Puck drops at 7:30 pm.
-The Lightning’s power play remains scorching hot, scoring 12 times in the team’s last 10 games.
-Callahan’s two-assist effort was just his second multi-point game of the season.
-Point has three goals and three assists in a five-game point streak.
-The win was just the Lightning’s second regulation victory in their last 16 visits to Capital One Arena.
-Kucherov now has a seven-game point streak (five goals, seven assists).
Our Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Brayden Point – Tallied his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season.
2nd Star: Ryan Callahan – Finished with two assists and was a thorn in the side of the Capitals for the entire evening.
3rd Star: Nikita Kucherov – Scored a dazzling goal that gave the Lightning some much-needed insurance in the third period.
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