Lightning power play, Capitals penalty kill will make or break series

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The Tampa Bay Lightning went into Game 3 in Washington trailing 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final. Things were looking bleak, but they came through with a huge victory on the road.

The Lightning ended up winning Game 3 because of a strong performance from their power play. Not only did Tampa get a power-play tally from Steven Stamkos, they also got one from Nikita Kucherov. But this is nothing new for this team.

They’re now clicking at 30 percent on the man-advantage in the postseason, which is third in the league behind Boston and Washington. During the regular season, they were also third in that category behind Nashville and Winnipeg.

If you look back to their performance in Game 3, the Lightning showed exactly why they’re so difficult to defend when they have a five-on-four advantage. When the opposition is down a man, it’s nearly impossible to defend a one-timer from Stamkos and Kucherov.

No chance for Holtby on this blast from the captain:

“It’s no different than [Capitals forward Alex] Ovechkin, there are some guys that have their spots and they can score from them,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, per NHL.com. “Some nights the shots are getting blocked and the goalie is getting them, but the reason those two [Stamkos and Ovechkin] in particular are special players is because it doesn’t matter how you defend them, they can find a way. Niskanen was over there, Holtby was set, and he still found a way.”

For the Lightning to even up this series, they’ll probably have to get their power play to contribute like it did in the last game, which means that it’s the Capitals’ job to make sure they stay out of the penalty box. In this series, Tampa has shown that they can beat you on special teams. Through three games, they’re 5-for-12 on the man-advantage.

The Caps can try taking Stamkos’ one-timer away, but there’s a pretty good chance that someone else is going to be free to do something creative. So the best way for Washington to limit the damage is to stay as disciplined as they can.

“There’s no power play that works when they don’t get them,” Caps head coach Barry Trotz said, per NHL.com. “I thought some of our penalties (in Game 3) were unnecessary, and because of that, that put the game at risk.”

Trotz’s team has given the Lightning three, four and five power play opportunities in the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final. To push the Bolts to the brink of elimination, they’ll likely need to make sure that number shrinks in Game 4 or they could be headed back to Tampa Bay tied 2-2.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.