The Eastern Conference Final is even at two games apiece. The Lightning beat the Capitals in Game 4 in Washington on Thursday, 4-2. Road teams have won every game in the series, which shifts back to Tampa for Saturday’s Game 5.
The Capitals had every chance to win on Thursday and carried the play for most of the night. But they faltered repeatedly on the power play and couldn’t solve Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning goalie who’d struggled so much in Games 1 and 2 in Florida.
Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, and Anthony Cirelli (into an empty net) scored for the Lightning. Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored for Washington.
Final: TBL 4, WAS 2
With about 1:45 to play, Nicklas Backstrom had an open net from the left post but couldn’t fully corral the puck and wound up firing it off the side of the cage. The Capitals moved the puck around the offensive zone for another minute and change after that, but they didn’t get a better chance. Anthony Cirelli hit an empty net for Tampa Bay with three seconds left.
3:45: TBL 3, WAS 2
John Carlson had a nice chance to tie the game with a wrister from the slot, but he shot the puck right into Andrei Vasilevskiy’s chest. Washington’s running short of time.
8:03: TBL 3, WAS 2
The Lightning take the lead with a gut punch of a goal. The Capitals had just finished a penalty kill, and the crowd here was roaring in approval when Alex Killorn got the puck in front of the net, made a move, and slid it past Braden Holtby.
10:51: WAS 2, TBL 2
The Lightning are bustling, but pucks keep bouncing just over their blades. Tyler Johnson almost just scored a slam-dunk from a few feet to Braden Holtby’s right, after a shot bounced off the end boards and came right to him. But Johnson whiffed while the puck bounced, and the game stayed even.
13:46: WAS 2, TBL 2
The Capitals almost just took the lead, but Andrei Vasilevskiy made the save of the night with his glove after Brett Connolly batted the puck out of the air right in front of him. Mark that one down in case the Lightning go on to win.
15:30: WAS 2, TBL 2
The Lightning have played a strong puck-possession game to open the third period. That’s a welcomed change after spending most of the first 40 minutes playing defense.
Washington erased a one-goal deficit in the middle frame, so the Caps can consider that a mission accomplished. Both teams had their chances to score after that, the most notable being a Tyler Johnson breakaway for Tampa Bay that Holtby turned away. The Capitals turned that stop into a break the other way but couldn’t stuff the puck home.
Shots on goal are 28-13 in the Capitals’ favor and 19-12 at five-on-five. They’ve had 26 scoring chances to 15 for Tampa Bay, according to Natural Stat Trick’s count.
The Caps have been the better team. Now’s time to finish the job.
3:10: TBL 2, WAS 2
5:13: TBL 2, WAS 2
This game had a fire-wagon pace to it for the first 25 minutes or so. It’s slowed down a good bit since Evgeny Kuznetsov tied the score five minutes and change into this period, though. A 3-2 final score would’ve felt low before, but it’s possible now.
7:00: TBL 2, WAS 2
I just want to point your attention to the Alex Ovechkin saucer pass that set up Evgeny Kuznetsov’s tying goal a few minutes ago, because it was from another world:
9:35: TBL 2, WAS 2
The Capitals failed on another power play. They’re 0-for-4 with the man advantage. The Lightning have done well on their penalty kills and avoided giving up any incredible chances while they’ve been shorthanded. Still, 0-for-4: Not good!
12:52: TBL 2, WAS 2
The Capitals, who came up empty on three first-period power plays, are getting another chance now, while Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde sits for tripping.
14:42: TBL 2, WAS 2
The Capitals tie it. The goal-scorer is Evgeni Kuznetsov, but that’s all the captain. Alex Ovechkin flicked a sublime backhand saucer pass across the rink to spring his Russian countryman on a partial breakaway from the blue line in. You really can’t do a saucer pass better than that. Ovechkin has been Washington’s best player.
19:42: TBL 2, WAS 1
Alex Ovechkin has been really active, both on the power play and on even-strength rushes. But the Lightning have done well to anticipate his aggression and get sticks in his way when he’s had decent looks at the net. Ovechkin’s put a few shots into the netting high above Andrei Vasilevskiy so far, and the Lightning would love if he’d keep doing that.
That was a pretty demoralizing first period for the Capitals, all in all. It ended with their fans booing them off the ice as they failed to score on a third-consecutive power play. Washington had a great first few minutes and started the game up 1-0, but Tampa Bay scored twice in 2:54 to take a lot of the air out of this building.
Shots were 15-7, Capitals, though most of that advantage is because they spent six of 20 minutes on the power play. The even-strength shot margin is 8-6, Washington.
2:04: TBL 2, WAS 1
Tampa Bay has just given Washington another power play, this one on a Nikita Kucherov hooking penalty. The Lightning are playing with fire against an elite unit.
3:18: TBL 2, WAS 1
The Lightning have killed a second-straight penalty. Alex Ovechkin’s almost created two goals on shot-passes from the left circle, one one each of the Caps’ two chances. But Andrei Vasilevskiy has just gotten both of them with his left toe.
5:29: TBL 2, WAS 1
The Capitals got a few good looks on their first power play of the night, but Andrei Vasilevskiy was equal to all of them. They’re going back on the man advantage almost immediately afterward, though, and the guy in the box this time will be Tampa Bay’s best defenseman Victor Hedman, who’s off for slashing.
11:28: TBL 2, WAS 1
Steven Stamkos does what he does: He scores a power play goal from his customary perch on the left side of the ice, after the Lightning work the puck around Washington’s end brilliantly. The Capitals can’t take penalties against one of the league’s best power plays, but they did there. Lars Eller was off for holding Nikita Kucherov when Stamkos scored. That’s the Tampa Bay captain’s seventh goal of the playoffs and second in two games.
14:22: WAS 1, TBL 1
The Capitals’ public-address announcer wasn’t done announcing Dmitry Orlov’s opening goal when Washington defenseman Michael Kempny turned the puck over to the Lightning in his own end, setting up a tic-tac-toe sequence that led to a tap-in for Brayden Point. The “our team just gave up a goal” organ started playing immediately after the announcement.
15:32: WAS 1, TBL 0
The Capitals were buzzing, and they’ve just gotten rewarded. After a couple chances right in front of Andrei Vasilveskiy, Dmitry Orlov one-timed a blistering slapper over his right shoulder, unloading from the left faceoff circle. T.J. Oshie put a nice pass on a platter for Orlov, who uncorked it. That’s a good start for the home team.
18:06: TBL 0, WAS 0.
The Capitals’ all-world playmaking center, Nicklas Backstrom, is back in the lineup tonight after missing the last four games with an apparent hand injury. The loudest cheer of the night so far came when Backstrom skated up to the faceoff dot at center ice to take a draw about a minute into the game. The locals are really into this moment.
The Capitals won the first two games and beat the Bolts up pretty substantially in the process. The goal differential in Games 1 and 2 was a combined 10-4, and that was indicative of how dominant the Capitals were. The Lightning had no answers, including in goal, where Vezina Trophy nominee Andrei Vasilevskiy looked frazzled.
The Lightning pushed back in Game 3 in the District, though. They won 4-2 and prevented themselves from getting pushed to the brink. They nonetheless need a win in Game 4 to avoid falling into a pretty deep hole. Teams that go down 3-1 in Stanley Cup Playoffs series only come back to win them about 10 percent of the time. The games only get bigger.
Tampa Bay is in this round for the third time in four years and trying to reach its second Cup Final in that span. Washington hasn’t played in the Final (or the conference final, even) since 1998. This is one of the biggest Capitals games in the last two decades.
We’ll update this post from the press box at Capital One Arena throughout the game.