The Eastern Conference Final is now a best-of-3 series after the Tampa Bay Lightning survived a third-period onslaught by the Washington Capitals to even things at 2-2 with a 4-2 win on Thursday night.
The Capitals have been laying siege on Andrei Vasilevskiy and Co. over the past two games, but after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead on the road in Tampa, all of their best efforts have been for naught as the Lightning found a way to gain a lead and then manage to hold onto it for dear life.
The Caps have simply been the better team 5-on-5, but the Lightning picked a good night to figure out how to put pucks in the net in that situation.
Coming into the game, the Lightning’s even strength play produced only three goals. Nearly all of their damage came with the man-advantage and it didn’t help them as they fell in a 0-2 rut and through three games they had been outscored 8-3 at 5-on-5.
Tampa was a good even strength team during the regular season and their overall CF% has been quite good in the playoffs so far, but they’ve taken a step back in that department in this series.
Killorn’s tally may have been at 5-on-5, but the Caps had just barelykilled off a penalty when the Lightning forward scored.
The goal broke the deadlock after Evgeny Kuzenetsov provided the equalizer in the second frame thanks to some dirty backhand sauce from Alex Ovechkin, who hasn’t scored in either of the losses.
An empty-net goal later and the Lightning fly back home having stolen two from under the Caps’ noses.
Given the volume of shots being thrown Vasilevskiy’s way during Washington’s two home games, the Capitals are probably a little unlucky at the moment.
Vasilevskiy has stopped 36 shots in each of the past two games, both 4-2 wins for the Lightning.
Nicklas Backstrom returned after missing the first three games of the series (and four total) with a hand injury. He played 18:51 and was a minus-one with four shots on goal. Not the return the Capitals would have hoped for from one of the league’s premier set-up men.
It’s going to be a long 48 hours in Washington, a lot of time for both players and fans to stew over what’s happened in this series. The Caps have never won a series when they won the first two games on the road.
They’ve managed to fend off one curse this postseason. It appears a second one awaits now.
The race to two begins on Saturday night in Game 5 (7:15 p.m. ET, NBC).