Eastern Conference finals: Game 4
Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Washington Capitals 2
Series: Tied 2-2
Next Game: Saturday, Amalie Arena, 7:15 p.m. ET | TV: NBC
• The story: Killorn’s late goal kills Capitals’ series advantage. (Read more)
• Top takeaways: The V in Vasilevskiy apparently stands for Vezina. (Read more)
• Highlights: After what seemed like a crucial penalty kill for the Capitals, the Lightning retook the lead on a goal by Alex Killorn and added an empty-netter to prevail, 4-2. (Read more)
• Postgame reading: The Capitals were seen as inexperienced to start the season, but the team thinks its youth relaxed them as the year went on. (Read more)
With a second left in regulation, the goal light above the Washington Capitals’ net flashing once again, Alex Ovechkin’s frustration boiled over. He snapped his stick in half against the cage’s crossbar. Then he took the half in his hand and broke that into two pieces. The fragment that remained in hands he soon threw against the boards, the final phase of demolishing the twig that had failed him all night.
Though Washington largely dominated play, launching 38 pucks toward Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Capitals lost a second straight home game, 4-2, squandering a golden opportunity to take control of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. Washington came to Capital One Arena with a 2-0 lead, and now the series is tied with two of the next three games in Tampa.
“Yeah, of course, it’s a missed opportunity,” Ovechkin said. “It is what it is. Nothing we can do. We’re not going to look back. We’re just going to look forward. This group of guys has been in different situations all year, and we fight through it. So, it’s a huge test. We’re still going to have fun, we’re still going to enjoy it and we’ll see what happens. We’re going to Tampa and play our game and try to get a victory and come back home.”
Midway through the final period, the Capitals had just done what had seemed impossible at times: survive a Lightning power play. Capital One Arena roared. A moment later, it fell into a stunned silence. The red goal light flashed and goaltender Braden Holtby was sprawled across his crease. Just six seconds after the power play ended, Tampa Bay forward Alex Killorn drove the net and wedged a puck through Holtby as the netminder challenged him.
Killorn’s goal, with 8:03 remaining in the third period, gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead. Tampa Bay then added an empty-net tally with 1.5 seconds left before the final horn.
“Play was still in our end, so as a goalie, you don’t even really know if power play is killed off or not,” Holtby said of Killorn’s goal. “You’re just trying to do your job, and I think it’s a play that, once I watch, I’ll realize that I could do a better job on. Not the time of the game that I want to give up a goal. Analyze it, figure out what are the things you could do better and you move forward.”
Capitals top center Nicklas Backstrom returned to the lineup after missing four playoff games with a right-hand injury, and that meant Washington had its entire roster healthy and available for the first time since Game 2 of the team’s first-round series against Columbus. But it didn’t matter with Vasilevskiy saving his best game of the series for Thursday night, when he made 36 saves. Before Killorn’s game-winning goal, Vasilevskiy bought time for his teammates.
After a disappointing first period, the Capitals made a push in the second. Less than six minutes into the period, Ovechkin’s backhand saucer pass through the neutral zone hit center Evgeny Kuznetsov in stride for a breakaway, and he beat Vasilevskiy with a shot through the goaltender’s legs.
But Vasilevskiy was the difference for the rest of the period, keeping the game tied at 2 despite Washington controlling play. The Lightning had a 20-minute stretch from the first period to midway through the second without a single shot on goal, and by the time both teams got through 40 minutes, the Capitals had 29 shots to Tampa Bay’s 13.
“When you get this far in the playoffs, you’re playing such good teams, and there’s going to be nights like tonight where it just felt like everything we did didn’t go as planned, especially in that second period,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “And Vasy was there to bail us out. That’s why he’s one of, if not the, best goalies in the world.”
With nine minutes left in the frame, Ovechkin had a glorious chance at point-blank range, but his shot sailed over the net. He kicked up a leg, hung his head back and screamed in frustration.
“After the second it was, I don’t want to say frustrating to come out only tied, but I think we missed maybe a few opportunities there,” defenseman John Carlson said. “I think we played good in the third, too. We’ve just got to do a better job with those important moments in the game to flip it going our way.”
Less than six minutes into the third period, Chandler Stephenson’s centering pass bounced off Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and fluttered toward Brett Connolly, who managed to deflect the puck forward with the shaft of his stick. Vasilevskiy swatted at the puck with his glove to keep the puck out of the net. He looked like a typical hot goalie poised to steal his team a game.
Then the Lightning power play, which is 6 for 14 this series, got an opportunity with 10:09 left in the game after center Lars Eller was called for his second penalty of the contest and his fifth infraction in the past two games. Washington managed to kill off his hooking minor, but Tampa Bay maintained possession and, moments after the teams were back at even strength, Killorn got a shot behind Holtby from close range.
“We did a good job killing it off,” forward Tom Wilson said. “We just needed to hold on for a few more seconds.”
Three shifts after defenseman Dmitry Orlov scored Washington’s first goal, Tampa Bay responded, capitalizing on an egregious blind, backhand pass across the slot by Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny. The Lightning took the turnover gift, and Brayden Point completed a tic-tac-toe passing sequence with a tap-in goal to tie the game. Less than three minutes later, Eller was called for slashing.
Tampa Bay’s power play has given Washington fits this series. While the Capitals have Ovechkin firing one-timers from the left faceoff circle, the Lightning has Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov doing that from each side. Point collected a puck in front of the net and fed Stamkos on the left side, where he was all alone and easily beat Holtby to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.
The efficiency of the Lightning’s power play then made Washington’s man-advantage look worse as the Capitals got three straight power plays in the final nine minutes of the first period. Vasilevskiy made seven saves, three of which were on Ovechkin. The more opportunities the Capitals got, the worse their power play performed.
The Lightning’s penalty kill was considered a weakness entering this series, and the Capitals had dinged the unit for three power-play goals through the first two games. Washington is 0 for 7 since.
“We lost the battle again,” Ovechkin said. “They scored two goals. We didn’t.”
Though the Capitals have just one playoff loss on the road, they’ve struggled at home, following a postseason trend around the league. Perhaps Washington got too cute with its playmaking at times at Capital One Arena in an effort to impress the home fans. Maybe there was more pressure or distractions at home. As the third power play of the first frame struggled to get any scoring chances, the team was booed off the ice for first intermission.
By the time Anthony Cirelli scored the empty-netter in the waning moments, more than a few boos could be heard from the fans that remained.
“Our intention is to go on the road and win a game in Tampa,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ve already done that twice.”
By Scott Allen
Andrei Vasilevskiy stood on his head: For the second consecutive game, Tampa Bay’s goaltender looked like the best player on the ice for much of the night. He had to be. While the Lightning were held without a shot for a nearly 21-minute stretch spanning the first and second periods, Vasilevskiy had 27 saves on 29 shots through 40 minutes. He wasn’t tested as often in the third period, but finished with 36 saves on 38 shots, just as he did in Game 3, and demonstrated once again why he’s a Vezina Trophy finalist.
(Not-so) special teams: The Capitals failed to score on three first-period power plays, including a missed opportunity just before intermission that prompted a smattering of boos from the Capital One Arena crowd. Washington did a better job staying out of the penalty box in Game 4 than they did on Tuesday, but the Lightning’s lethal power play unit capitalized on its first chance to break a 1-1 tie. Tampa Bay’s only other power play didn’t come until midway through the third period, and while the Capitals technically killed it off, the Lightning scored seconds after Lars Eller jumped out of the penalty box. Eller committed Washington’s only two penalties on Thursday and has five penalties in the last two games.
Home woes continue: It’s not outlandish to suggest the Capitals invite Tampa Bay’s mascot, ThunderBug, to Game 6 at Capital One Arena and that the team hand out blue rally towels when the series returns to D.C. to help create that elusive road-but-really-home-ice advantage. Washington is now 3-5 in Chinatown this postseason and 0-6 against the Lightning at home in the playoffs all-time. The good news? Washington is a sparkling 7-1 on the road, including a pair of dominating wins at Amalie Arena to open this series.
Backstrom back: Nicklas Backstrom returned to the lineup for the first time in 10 days after missing the last four games with a right hand injury. The Capitals’ center started on the third line, had four shots on goal and won six of his nine faceoffs in nearly 19 minutes of ice time, but he couldn’t prevent Washington from dropping consecutive games for only the second time this postseason. Previously, the Capitals lost the first two games of their first-round series against Columbus before winning four straight. For the third consecutive series, the Capitals are tied 2-2 heading into Game 5.
Final: Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Braden Holtby headed to the bench for an extra skater with 2:10 remaining, and while the Capitals put some pressure on Andrei Vasilevskiy, they couldn’t solve the Lightning netminder.
Crunch time in D.C.: A John Carlson slapper that was gobbled up by Andrei Vasilevskiy ended a nearly eight-minute stretch without a shot for the Capitals, which isn’t ideal in the third period on home ice. With 3:03 remaining, Washington still trails 3-2.
Bolts take the lead: Seconds after the Capitals killed off Tampa Bay’s second power play chance of the game, and with 11:51 gone by in the third period, Ondrej Palat found Alex Killorn in front of the net with nifty backhanded pass that Killorn poked past Braden Holtby for a 3-2 lead.
Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to be Tampa Bay’s MVP: Evgeny Kuznetsov made a bid for his second goal of the night, but Andrei Vasilevskiy made a blocker save on his shot from the slot five minutes into the third period to keep the game tied. A minute later, Brett Connolly batted a deflected puck that Chandler Stephenson threw on net out of mid-air, but Vasilevskiy got enough of the shot bound for the back of the net with his glove for one of his best saves of the night.
Tampa’s lucky and its goalie is good: Tampa Bay is very lucky this game is still tied 2-2. The Lightning went 20 minutes in between shots and committed four penalties in two periods, yet the Capitals managed just one goal in that span, a game-tying tally by Kuznetsov.
Give credit to Vasilevskiy, he’s stopped all 11 high-danger shots he’s faced in Game 4 including six in the second period, but if the Capitals keep peppering him from the slot and the crease with traffic in front their fortunes could change quickly.
Of course, the Lightning could start putting pucks on net themselves, in which case it will be up to Holtby to stand tall in the net for Washington.
End Period 2: Lightning 2, Capitals 2
The Capitals outshot the Lightning 14-6 in the second period and scored the only goal of the frame on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 10th of the playoffs to tie the game. After the teams combined for four penalties in the first period, Tampa Bay killed off the only power play chance of the second.
Holtby stones Johnson: Braden Holtby hasn’t been tested nearly as often as his counterpart, but he made a strong save on a Tyler Johnson breakaway to keep the game tied late in the second period.
Vasilevskiy stays hot: Chander Stephenson had a great chance off a faceoff win in the Tampa Bay zone after Brett Connolly threw a puck in front of the net, but Andrei Vasilevskiy made one of his more impressive saves of the night. Seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom had another good look at the goal off a pass from Connolly, but Vasilevskiy was up to the task. After stopping 36 of 38 shots on Tuesday, Vasilevskiy has 26 saves on 28 shots with five minutes remaining in the second period.
All Caps, except on the scoreboard: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s glove save on Tom Wilson with eight minutes remaining in the second period increased the Capitals’ advantage in shots to 24-8. “We lost a lot of momentum by taking all of the penalties,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper told NBC Sports Network’s Pierre McGuire during a stoppage in play after Tampa Bay registered its first shot on goal in nearly 21 minutes. “We’ve gotta get back to our attack mentality. We’re not attacking the net at all.”
Power outage: The Capitals spent much of their fourth power play in Tampa Bay’s zone and enjoyed a virtual 5-on-3 for about 30 seconds after a Lightning player broke his stick, but they only generated two shots and once again failed to score. Washington remains 0 for their last two games with the man advantage.
Caps have the momentum: Tampa Bay has lost its lead, gone more than 17 minutes without a shot on goal and will be on the penalty kill after Victor Hedman was sent off for tripping T.J. Oshie in the defensive zone seven minutes into the second period. The Capitals are 0 for 6 with the man advantage at Capital One Arena this series.
Capitals have all of the shots: Washington has been tilting the ice in their favor for most of the game. It leads Tampa Bay 21 to 7 in shots on net at even strength. Alex Killorn was the last skater for the Lightning to put a shot on net at even strength. That was midway through the first period
Kuzy ties it: Evgeny Kuznetsov added to his team-leading point total this season with his 10th goal of the playoffs 5:18 into the second period. Kuznetsov beat Andrei Vasilevskiy through the five-hole after a nifty backhanded pass from Alex Ovechkin sprung him on a breakaway.
Big hits: T.J. Oshie is known more for his scoring than his checking, but he absolutely rocked Cedric Paquette during the first minute of the second period. Chris Kunitz would get some payback soon after, leveling the Capitals’ forward near the blue line. Three minutes into the second period, hits were 15-8 in favor of the Capitals for the game. Washington also had the first three shots of the frame.
How did Backstrom look?: Nicklas Backstrom was on the ice for 5:59 in the first period and was credited with one of the Capitals’ 15 shots on goal. “I thought he was okay,” NBC Sports Network analyst Keith Jones said during the first intermission. “They used him a lot, decent on draws, but still a looked a little bit rusty.” Backstrom was better than decent on draws, winning four of the five faceoffs he took.
The silver lining for the Caps: The edge at even strength is with Washington. It scored the first goal of the game and held a 7-4 advantage in scoring chances, but the Capitals’ power play is not helping the cause. Washington generated six scoring chances, three from the slot and the crease, during their three power-play opportunities in the first period but couldn’t convert any of them. Ovechkin had three of those chances and Kuznetsov, Backstrom and Oshie each had one.
Here are the even-strength scoring chances for Tampa Bay’s skaters. High-danger chances in parenthesis.
Brayden Point 2 (2)
Steven Stamkos 1
Victor Hedman 1
Tampa Bay’s power play, meanwhile, was another story as it converted on its only opportunity, a nifty one-timer by Steven Stamkos.
End Period 1: Lightning 2, Capitals 1
Steven Stamkos scored his fourth power play goal of the series to break a 1-1 tie on Tampa Bay’s only 5-on-4 opportunity of the period and the Lightning’s penalty-killing unit, which had struggled mightily coming into the series, killed off all three Capitals power plays. Washington’s 15-7 advantage in shots is little consolation.
Another penalty on Tampa Bay: The Lightning is having as much trouble staying out of the penalty box in Game 4 as the Capitals did on Tuesday. Nikita Kucherov’s minor for slashing with 2:04 to play in the period will give Washington’s power play unit yet another chance. The Capitals are still looking for their first goal with the man advantage since Game 2.
Nothing doing with the man advantage: After managing five shots on goal on their first power play, the Capitals failed to test Andre Vasilevskiy during their second chance with the man advantage. Just as the power play expired and Victor Hedman stepped back on the ice, Lars Eller put a shot on net that Vasilevskiy turned away with relative ease.
Caps getting good looks: The Capitals have a 12-7 advantage in shots and they’ve dominated the chances in the second half of the period. With 5:37 to play before intermission, Washington will go back on the power play, thanks to a slashing penalty on Victor Hedman.
Caps get a turn at 5-on-4: A rare defensive zone turnover by Tyler Johnson gave Alex Ovechkin a golden opportunity in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy midway through the first period, but the Capitals’ captain ripped a shot wide of the net. Seconds later, an interference penalty on Yanni Gourde gave the Capitals their first power play of the game and Ovechkin a shot at redemption. Ovechkin had one shot blocked by Ryan Callahan and another two saved by Vasilveskiy during the ensuing man advantage, which Tampa Bay killed off to maintain its 2-1 lead.
Stamkos + PP = Goal: For the fourth consecutive game, Steven Stamkos scored a power play goal. About a minute after Lars Eller was whistled for holding with 12:33 to play in the first period to give Tampa Bay’s lethal power play unit its first chance, Stamkos blasted a one-timer past Braden Holtby to give the Lightning its first lead of the game. Tampa Bay has now scored at least one power-play goal in nine straight games.
Bolts strike back: That didn’t last long. Before Capital One Arena in-game announcer Wes Johnson could finish announcing Dmitry Orlov’s goal, the Lightning answered with a tic-tac-toe goal after picking off a blind, backhand clearing attempt by Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny. Brayden Point buried his seventh goal of the playoffs past Braden Holtby off passes from Tyler Johnson and Yanni (or is it Laurel?) Gourde with 5:38 gone in the first period to tie the score.
Dmitry Orlov opens the scoring with a rocket: Seconds after Andrei Vasilevskiy denied T.J. Oshie with an impressive kick save on the doorstep, Dmitry Orlov ripped a slap shot into the top right corner of the net to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead 4:28 into the first period. It’s the 12th time in 16 games that Washington has scored first and the third time in this series.
Backstrom in the dot: While Nicklas Backstrom was back in the lineup after missing the last four games with a hand injury, there was some question whether he would take faceoffs. The answer, at least early on, was yes, and he was effective, winning his first three draws.
Can Holtby get hot again?: Braden Holtby continues to outplay Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, but he has his defense to thank for the lighter workload. At even strength, Washington has averaged almost 26 shots on net per 60 minutes of play, with a little more than seven of those originating in the slot or crease. Vasilevskiy, on the other hand, has been called on to defend 39 shots per 60 minutes with almost 12 of those from high-danger areas. Add in Tampa Bay only provided its goaltender three even-strength goals combined in the first three games of the series and it is clear the Capitals’ defense — both blue-liners and forwards — probably deserves more credit than it gets.
Caps need to stop Bolts on the power play: Tampa Bay’s power play is tough to counter. Coach Jon Cooper uses a scheme similar to Washington’s 1-3-1 setup, but instead of just one superstar sniper they have two: right-shot Steven Stamkos on the left faceoff circle and left-shot Nikita Kucherov over on the right. Gravitate to one and the other will fire a puck at net with some serious velocity.
Stamkos and Kucherov are joined by forwards J.T. Miller and Brayden Point plus defenseman Victor Hedman on the first power-play unit, a five-man squad that has scored six goals on 18 shots in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 2-for-6 on high-danger chances. The Lightning has also scored five of its eight goals with the man advantage in the Eastern Conference finals and improved their postseason efficiency to 30 percent, the third-best mark in the playoffs.
Aside from outworking the Lightning and getting sticks in the passing lanes while on the penalty kill, Washington needs to win its face offs. Possession of the puck, and, hopefully, the ensuing clear, will force Tampa Bay to chase the puck and regroup in its own zone. The Capitals are 58-48 in short-handed draws during this postseason run and 16-12 against the Lightning through the first three games of the series. However, they won just 1 of 6 short-handed faceoffs in the Game 3 defeat.
Immerse yourself in the Capitals’ postseason with The Post’s coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Chandler Stephenson-Nicklas Backstrom-Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly-Jay Beagle-Andre Burakovsky
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos
Braden Holtby (starter)
Tampa Bay’s lineup
Ondrej Palat-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov
Yanni Gourde-Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-J.T. Miller
Chris Kunitz-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman-Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh-Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn-Mikahil Sergachev
Andrei Vasilevskiy (starter)