Vasilevskiy Lightning top Caps 4-2 to even East final 2-all
WASHINGTON — Alex Killorn scored the tiebreaker with about 8 minutes left, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves, and the Tampa Bay Lightning weathered the equivalent of more than a period without a shot on goal to edge the Washington Capitals 4-2 on Thursday night, evening the Eastern Conference final at two games apiece.
Killorn was left pretty much alone during a defensive breakdown by Washington and scored 6 seconds after a Tampa Bay power play expired, putting in a pass from Ondrej Palat.
Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point scored Tampa Bay’s first two goals, and Anthony Cirelli added an empty-netter with a second left. Washington’s goals came from Evgeny Kuznetsov — off an assist by Alex Ovechkin — and defenseman Dmitry Orlov.
The Lightning host Game 5 on Saturday night, with Game 6 back in Washington on Monday. The road team has won every game in the series so far. The Capitals, who eliminated the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, fell to 3-5 overall at home during these playoffs — and even got booed late in the first period, which ended with the Lightning ahead 2-1.
The Lightning won Game 4 despite going nearly 21 full minutes of game time — the last 10:41 of the first period, followed by the initial 10:11 of the second — without putting a single official shot on net. And they won even though the Capitals finally got back center Nicklas Backstrom, who was third on the team in points this season behind Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Backstrom had missed four games in a row with an injured right hand.
One key: Vasilevskiy played just like the Vezina Trophy finalist he is. He was spectacular at times, including stops against Chandler Stephenson on a breakaway and Backstrom from the doorstep in the second period. Early in the third, Vasilevskiy used his left glove to swat away a try from Brett Connolly.
After one flubbed chance, Ovechkin threw his head back and looked up, the very picture of disappointment.
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby didn’t need to make nearly as many saves, given the shot discrepancy: Washington ended up with 38 to Tampa Bay’s 20.
Orlov put the hosts ahead about 4 1/2 minutes after the opening faceoff with a shot from the left circle, but the Lightning needed all of 70 seconds to draw even.
Washington defenseman Michal Kempny’s backhand clear attempt went awry, sliding right onto the tape of Tyler Johnson’s stick. From there, it was as easy as 1-2-3 for Tampa Bay: Johnson passed to rookie Yanni Gourde, who moved it to Point, whose immediate shot from close range gave Holtby no chance.
The Lightning went up 2-1 lead less than 3 minutes later, with Stamkos putting the team’s lone shot of a power play in off the left post. That capped a slick sequence of passes, from Nikita Kucherov to J.T. Miller, back to Kucherov, back to Miller, to Point, who found Stamkos.
The Lightning have produced 11 power-play goals over their last nine games, with at least one in each. And it’s been Stamkos leading the way: He has scored on a power play in each game of this series.
The game was barely 8 1/2 minutes old, and the Lightning had only accumulated five shots. But Tampa Bay already had scored twice and silenced a boisterous, red-clad crowd that went from supportive chants of “Let’s go, Caps!” before the game even began to a nervous hush to — somewhat unbelievably, given that Washington began the day two wins from playing for the Stanley Cup — a smattering of groans and jeers in the closing seconds of the opening period.
Those boos arrived after the Capitals failed to score on any of a succession of three man-advantage opportunities.
The Capitals were much better at the outset of the second, recording the period’s initial eight shots and making it 2-all when Kuznetsov took a flipped backhand pass from Ovechkin and put the puck between Vasilevskiy’s pads. That gave Kuznetsov 21 points — 10 goals, 11 assists — and tied him with Ovechkin (who did it in 2009) for the most by a Capitals player in a single postseason.
Nit Vasilevskiy wouldn’t let another puck go in.
In the Western Conference final, the Vegas Golden Knights hold a 2-1 series lead over the Winnipeg Jets. Game 4 is in Las Vegas on Friday night. ... Stamkos showed zero effects from being hit in the face by a puck during the morning skate Thursday; he briefly left the practice ice before returning. ... Washington is 7-1 in away games. ... Lars Eller was whistled for both of Washington’s penalties. He has been sent to the box five times in the past two games.
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