PHT’s Three Stars: Vasilevskiy, Callahan lead Lightning in Game 5

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1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy’s great play continued in Game 5 after a bit of a stumble to start the series. In making 28 saves, he helped the Lightning beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 to take a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final. He’s now stopped 100 of the last 106 shots he’s faced. Tampa can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final with a win Monday night in Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

2nd Star: Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning

Callahan had his biggest game of the playofs with a goal and an assist in the Tampa win. He first assisted on Cedric Paquette‘s opening goal 19 seconds into the game and followed that up with an early tally himself in the second period. His goal, which would end up standing as the game-winner, came just 33 seconds into the middle period.

3rd Star: Dan Girardi, Tampa Bay Lightning

The blue liner logged 19:34 during Game 5 and blocked a game high four shots, including one in the final minute on Alex Ovechkin to help preserve the lead.

[Quick-striking Lightning on verge of Stanley Cup Final berth]

Highlight of the Night:

John Carlson might have nightmares about this save by Vasilevskiy with seconds to go:

Factoid of the Night:

Sunday’s schedule: Vegas Golden Knights at Winnipeg Jets, 3 p.m. ET, NBC, live stream (Vegas leads series 3-1)

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Special teams lift Lightning back in East final against Caps

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back in the Eastern Conference final against the Washington Capitals, thanks in part to a thriving power play and suddenly reliable penalty-killing unit.

To regain control of the best-of-seven matchup that continues Saturday night, the Caps need a lift from their special teams, too.

”The series is tied 2-2,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ”It doesn’t matter how you got there.”

Tampa Bay, which has taken two straight in a series in which the home team has yet to win, believes it hasn’t played its best.

Washington was dominant in winning twice on the road, then sputtered – particularly on the Alex Ovechkin-led power play – while dropping the next two games at home.

”I think we look at it realistically,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. ”I mean, I said to everybody in September, even yesterday, and they’re saying the same thing: Sign me up. Best-of-three, got a chance to maybe go to the Stanley Cup Final, sign me up.

”I don’t think anybody thought the series would go four straight or anything like that. There’s two really high-quality teams that are going to go nose-to-nose,” Trotz added. ”There’s twists and turns in the road sometimes. … It’s just another layer of adversity. This group has taken on any adversity that has been thrown its way all year.”

Since yielding three power-play goals in the first two games of the series, two of them in the closing seconds of a period, the Lightning have gone 7-for-7 killing penalties over the past two games.

Not bad for a team that had one of the most potent power plays (third, 23.9 percent) in the NHL during the regular season, while also ranking among the league’s worst at killing penalties (28th, 76.1 percent).

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has a power-play goal in each of the first four games of the conference final.

Six of his seven goals this postseason have come in man-advantage situations, including his franchise-best 11th career playoff power-play goal (snapping a tie with Martin St. Louis) in Game 4 on Thursday night.

”Desperation. Realizing how important it is, especially in this series against the group that they have,” Stamkos said of the improved play on the penalty kill.

”It starts with the goaltending, and then it starts with guys willing to sacrifice. I think it’s been a challenge,” Stamkos added. ”When the power play is going well like we are, the PK wants to step up and be just as good, and vice versa when it’s the other way. … It’s been a lot of fun to watch.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 36 of 38 shots in Game 4. He has bounced back nicely since allowing 10 goals over five periods in the first two games.

Center Nicklas Backstrom, who returned to Washington’s lineup Thursday night after missing four games with a hand injury, thinks the Capitals need to create more traffic in front of the Lightning goaltender.

”He’s actually too good of a goalie if you’re going to shoot from outside with no traffic, so maybe we can get some more traffic and find these rebounds like we did the first couple of games,” Backstrom said.

”We have pretty good chances. We just don’t execute,” Ovechkin said after the Washington power play was shut out for the second straight game. ”We tried. … We had so (many) shots, and we just didn’t score one more goal.”

But just as Tampa Bay embraced the challenge of battling its way back into the series after losing Games 1 and 2, the Capitals are excited about the opportunity ahead, beginning Saturday night.

Not only is Washington is 7-1 on the road this postseason, but the Caps went on eliminate Columbus in the first round and Pittsburgh in the conference semifinal in six games after those series were each tied at 2.

”I think we’ve played three out of the four games pretty well,” Trotz said. ”I’m not disappointed at all.”

The Lightning are confident, too.

”Clearly home-ice advantage has been a disadvantage in this series,” Cooper said. ”Now, in saying that, I’d rather have Game 5 at home. I believe we’ll be a different team here than we showed up in Game 1 and 2.”

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Capitals confident in ability to continue road advantage vs. Lightning

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The Washington Capitals may have dropped two games at home to allow the Tampa Bay Lightning to even the Eastern Conference Final at two games apiece, but a 7-1 road record this postseason will allow for some confidence as the series becomes a best-of-three.

“There’s nothing we can do. We’re not going to look back, we’re just going to look forward,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. “This group of guys have been in different situations all year and we fight through it. It’s a huge test. We’re still going to have fun, we’re still going to enjoy it. We’ll see what happens. We’re going to Tampa to play our game, try to get a victory and come back home.”

Head coach Barry Trotz used the word “resilient” several times in his post-Game 4 press conference to describe his team, and it’s appropriate They dropped the first two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round only to reel off four straight wins. They dropped Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins after blowing a third period lead, then allowed their opponent to tie the series at two before winning Games 5 and 6 to advance. Now they wasted a strong start to the conference final and have given the Lightning a lifeline, even as they dominated at even strength through four games.

“We know how we have to play,” Trotz said afterward. “We’ve played well in three of four games; we played one stinker. We’re comfortable going on the road. We would have loved to have gotten this one tonight. We didn’t. We’re going to go to Tampa, and our intention is to go win a game in Tampa. We’ve already done it twice.”

[Lightning survive barrage to even series with Capitals]

Two dominant road victories already in this series won’t allow the Capitals’ confidence to wane or for old memories of previous playoff choke jobs to creep into their heads just yet. It’s about replicating their success in Games 1 and 2 while trying to be smarter about discipline (Hey, Lars Eller!) and not allow a Tampa power play that’s capitalized 42.9 percent in this series to continue winning that battle.

A lot of the credit for Tampa’s two wins in D.C. can go to goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 36 shots in both victories and allowed only four goals. Some of those chances were of the high-danger variety, but the Capitals couldn’t find the back of the net.

“He didn’t play great in the first two. He played well in the second two,” said Tom Wilson about Vasilevskiy’s play. “It’s our job to make him look more like the goalie the first couple of games. We’ll keep going to the net. We’ll make it hard on him. Hopefully the bounces will go in.”

“We had pretty good chances. We just [didn’t] execute,” added Ovechkin.

The old saying goes it’s not a series until a team loses at home. Well, the home team hasn’t had any luck in this conference final, but you have to imagine at some point over the course of these final three games a breakthrough will occur. In the meantime, the Capitals will look to continue to the home-ice non-advantage trend Saturday night in Game 5 (7:15 p.m. ET, NBC, live stream) at AMALIE Arena.

“Nothing’s come easy for this team,” said Trotz.

MORE:
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Conference Finals schedule, TV info
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NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Lightning survive barrage to even series with Capitals

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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.

[PHT’s Three Stars: Killorn’s goal, Vasilevskiy’s saves lead Lightning in Game 4]

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.

Brayden Point‘s game-tying goal in the first period and Alex Killorn‘s game-winner in the third were just what the doctor ordered, then.

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).

MORE:
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Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT’s Three Stars: Killorn’s goal, Vasilevskiy’s saves lead Lightning in Game 4

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1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning netminder was outstanding during Tampa’s 4-2 Game 4 victory over the Washington Capitals. In helping even the series 2-2, he made 36 saves for the second straight game. The Capitals had a number of Grade A opportunities, but Vasilevskiy was there to keep them at bay.

2nd Star: Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

With the score tied 2-2 midway through the third period, Killorn finished off a nice Ondrej Palat pass by going backhand, five-hole to beat Braden Holtby and give the Lightning the lead for good. Killorn, who last scored in Game 3 of the first round against the New Jersey Devils, snapped his 10-game goal drought.

3rd Star: Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

In the span of three minutes in the first period, Point played a huge role in flipping a 1-0 Capitals into a 2-1 Lightning advantage. He first put home his seventh of the playoffs and then minutes later fed Steven Stamkos for a power play goal, the Tampa captain’s seventh of the postseason as well.

[Lightning survive barrage to even series with Capitals 2-2]

Highlight of the Night: The passing on the Stamkos power play goal — his fourth straight game with an extra man tally — was gorgeous:

Factoid of the Night:

Friday’s schedule: Winnipeg Jets at Vegas Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Golden Knights lead series 2-1)

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.