Game 5 for the Tampa Bay Lightning was like night and day compared to the previous four games of the series,
Dominated at even strength over the first four games, Tampa turned things around and quickly built up a 2-0 after nine minutes, putting the Washington Capitals on their heels. But the Lightning didn’t relent and they continued pressing, which resulted in a third goal 33 seconds into the second period by Ryan Callahan. Now with a trip back to the Stanley Cup Final as the carrot dangling over their heads Monday night, they know what’s in store for them in Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream).
“[W]e’re going to have to match their urgency,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said on Sunday. “The closeout games, potential closeout games, they just seem to bring out the best in everybody. For us, we’ve had some success when we’ve gotten the lead. When you do that, you put a little pressure on the other team. Something we’ll try and focus on [Monday] night.”
The old saying goes that the fourth game in a series is always the hardest. Game 6 will be no different as the Capitals face the prospect of their Stanley Cup dreams fading away for another spring. Head coach Barry Trotz will be re-inserting Andre Burakovsky into his lineup and Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller will once again be commanding the center positions on the second and third lines, respectively.
Tampa has yet to falter in closing out a series in these playoffs. Those two games against the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins came at home at AMALIE Arena. Game 6 will be at Capital One Arena in D.C. where the Lightning took Games 3 and 4 last week.
“That’s the toughest game in the series,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “But this group has experience in that. We’ve had two games where we could close out teams so far in the playoffs, and we’ve done it. That’s the mentality that we’re going to have going in. At the same time they’re going to have their best. Their backs are against the wall. This will be the toughest game. I’m sure it’s going to be a tight one.”
“We have to understand the magnitude of the situation,” said Cooper. “Yes, we’re going on the road and we have had success there, but to close this out, if you can, garner a couple more days’ rest. As you know, at this time of year, we’re banged up, they’re banged up. The mental fatigue. Any time you can close one out earlier than seven is a good thing.”
The even strength play in Game 5 was an encouraging sign for the Lightning. That and the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has stopped 100 of the last 106 shots he’s faced, should give them plenty of confidence that it’s closing time Monday night. Tampa should also expect a Capitals team that they haven’t seen yet this series, and for good reason.
“There’s no hiding the fact that we know we’re going to get a very desperate team,” Stamkos said. “This has to be our best game, as well. I think this group is confident in knowing what to expect coming into these types of games. Like I said, we’ve done a very good job up until this point in these games. We’ll look to keep that going.”