Lightning take a shocking 3-0 series lead; Who’s to blame in Washington?


The Tampa Bay Lightning might just be the hottest team in hockey right now. They won their sixth consecutive playoff game thanks to another strong third period performance, leaving the favored Washington Capitals on the brink of elimination.

Tampa Bay 4, Washington 3; Lightning lead series 3-0.

Expect plenty of “Lightning strikes twice/thrice” type puns from this one, as the game turned on a dime in the final frame. The Capitals managed to take a 3-2 lead into the third period, but the Bolts scored two goals just 15 seconds apart to win Game 3.

It’s natural to fixate on the Capitals blame game, but let’s give Tampa Bay their much-deserved credit first. Sean Bergenheim continued his unexpected hot streak by scoring the game’s first goal. Alex Ovechkin should not be a scapegoat in Washington, as the spirited Russian set up Mike Knuble’s 1-1 goal and also scored a goal. John Carlson made it 2-1 while Vincent Lecavalier is also red-hot lately, as he banged in a rebound to make it 2-2. Ovechkin pounced on a loose puck to give the Caps a 3-2 lead on the power play.

Tampa scores two goals in a stunning 15-second span

For yet another game, Ovechkin’s big goal wouldn’t be enough for a Capitals win. Steven Stamkos capitalized on a bad Eric Fehr turnover to fire an absolute laser to make it 3-3.

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Things went from troubling to downright heart-breaking when the Lightning took a lead thanks to Ryan Malone crashing the net. The puck went off of his skate, but it was ruled a good goal. That would ultimately be the game-winner in this contest.

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It might be easy to blame Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth and it’s true that he allowed a goal or two that he would like to have back. Still, the tough-to-rattle goalie made some huge saves to keep Washington in the game. Neuvirth stopped a Bergenheim shorthanded chance and nullified a horrific Nicklas Backstrom turnover to keep the deficit at 4-3, but the Capitals couldn’t pierce the Lightning defense again.

The Capitals three biggest scapegoats

Naturally, the next question is: who or what should get the blame? Here are my three potential choices.

1. Horrible third periods: If there’s one signature thread to the first three games of this series, it’s that the Lightning finished games stronger. They out-shot the Capitals 15-5 in Game 3’s final frame, winning that period 2-0. Washington carried much of the play in Game 2, but Tampa Bay turned it around in the third with a 11-5 shot deficit (both teams scored one goal in that third period). The Lightning didn’t out-shoot the Caps in Game 1’s third, but they limited Washington to a 5-4 shot advantage as they sat on their lead and also scored an empty-netter.

So, overall, the Bolts out-scored the Capitals 4-1 (counting an empty-netter) and doubled their shots (30-15) in three third periods.

2. Bruce Boudreau: Personally, I think the Capitals might make a mistake if they get rid of Bellicose Bruce. Still, in this media congested age, it’s easy to lose patience after a few disappointments. While I’m easier on him than most, it’s tough to deny that Guy Boucher is coming out on top. Here’s what Keith Jones and Mike Keenan said about Boudreau in the first intermission.

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3. Nicklas Backstrom:
For years, Backstrom was the one Capitals star who jived with casual and hardcore hockey fans alike. The sweet-passing Swede has zero goals and two assists in eight playoff games, which is far worse than any supposed  Alexander Semin and Ovechkin stink-bombs from past years. Maybe he’s playing through an injury, but the Caps simply need more from their less-renowned star.

Final conclusions

Ultimately, the Capitals hope to be the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit. They’ll need to shake off tonight’s loss quickly because the two teams will meet again tomorrow night.

The Lightning simply need to continue their trend of timely scoring, sufficient defense and strong goaltending. Tampa Bay’s big three forwards Martin St. Louis, Lecavalier and Stamkos are coming up huge and support players like Dominic Moore and Bergenheim are playing over their heads. It wasn’t Roloson’s best game, but maybe that’s because he set the bar so high.

Boucher said he was happy Game 2 didn’t go too deep into overtime after his team slugged it out in a seven game series in the first round, so an early second round sweep would do wonders if the squad is truly tired.

Lucic: If I wanted to hurt Couture, ‘I would have hurt him’


Last night in Los Angeles, Kings forward Milan Lucic received a match penalty after skating the entire width of the ice to give San Jose’s Logan Couture a two-hand shove to the face.

Lucic didn’t hurt Couture, who had caught Lucic with an open-ice hit that Lucic didn’t like. Couture’s smiling, mocking face was good evidence that the Sharks’ forward was going to be OK.

This morning, Lucic was still in disbelief that he was penalized so harshly.

“I didn’t cross any line,” Lucic said, per Rich Hammond of the O.C. Register. “Believe me, if my intentions were to hurt him, I would have hurt him.”

While Lucic knew he deserved a penalty, he said after the game that he didn’t “know why it was called a match penalty.” His coach, Darryl Sutter, agreed, calling it “a borderline even roughing penalty.”

And though former NHL referee Kerry Fraser believes a match penalty was indeed warranted, Lucic said this morning that he hasn’t heard from the NHL about any possible supplemental discipline.

Nor for that matter has Dustin Brown, after his high hit on Couture in the first period.

In conclusion, it’s good to have hockey back.

Related: Sutter says Kings weren’t ‘interested’ in checking the Sharks

Torres apologizes to Silfverberg and Sharks


A statement from Raffi Torres:

“I accept the 41-game suspension handed down to me by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. I worked extremely hard over the last two years following reconstructive knee surgery to resume my NHL career, and this is the last thing I wanted to happen. I am disappointed I have put myself in a position to be suspended again. I sincerely apologize to Jakob for the hit that led to this suspension, and I’m extremely thankful that he wasn’t seriously injured as a result of the play. I also want to apologize to my Sharks teammates and the organization.”

A statement from San Jose GM Doug Wilson:

“The Sharks organization fully supports the NHL’s supplementary discipline decision regarding Raffi. While we do not believe there was any malicious intent, this type of hit is unacceptable and has no place in our game. There is a difference between playing hard and crossing the line and there is no doubt, in this instance, Raffi crossed that line. We’re very thankful that Jakob was not seriously injured as a result of this play.”

Silfverberg says he expects to play Saturday when the Ducks open their regular season Saturday in San Jose.