Lightning ride three-goal second period in 4-2 win

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The list of things the Tampa Bay Lightning needed to do to avoid falling behind 0-3 in the Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals was getting long.

As PHT’s James O’Brien pointed out on Tuesday, improved performances from Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman in terms of puck possession would’ve been a start.

Nikita Kucherov finding the back of the net for the first time in the series would also help.

And perhaps most importantly, getting an outing from Andrei Vasilevskiy that was reminiscent of those that made him a Vezina Trophy finalist this year.

Stamkos stepped up his game with a 60% CF%, Vasilevskiy was solid, and the Lightning checked enough of the boxes elsewhere to get themselves back into the series, defeating the Capitals 4-2 in Game 3.

Hedman’s 5-on-5 game still needs some work, but No. 77 scored his first goal of the playoffs and added two helpers so no one will be complaining too much.

Kucherov got his first of the series, scoring on a one-timer on the power play.

[PHT’s Three Stars: Lightning power play stays hot in Game 3 win]

And Vasilevskiy looked much less fatigued than he did in the first two games, where he allowed 10 goals in five periods of play and never eclipsed a .850 save percentage.

Vasilevskiy had never lost three straight playoff games, and he didn’t start a new trend on Tuesday, steering aside 35-of-37 shots he faced.

He had to be particularly good late in the game after Evgeny Kuznetsov (no surprise) found paydirt from a dirty angle for his sixth point in the series with Washington’s net empty.

Tampa benefited from a three-goal outburst in the second period. Kucherov netted on the power play, Hedman found a fairly wide-open net to shoot at, and Brayden Point provided a late marker to give the Bolts a 4-1 edge through 40 minutes.

Washington didn’t have much of the magic they found in abundance in Tampa, although their possession numbers showed they controlled the majority of the shot share.

One now has to wonder how the Caps will manage Backstrom’s injury going forward.

There’s an argument that they could have given him the night off on Tuesday to promote further healing with the team holding a healthy 2-0 lead series lead. We’ll see what happens for Game 4 Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Capitals certainly aren’t panicking at 2-1, but they need to be wary of their own ugly history when winning the first two games on the road (they’re 0-2 in a series where they do that). If Backstrom, one of the league’s best set-up men, can go and be effective, he can only help.

A side note: Home-ice advantage is a myth.

The Caps are 7-1 on the road in the playoffs and 3-4 at Capital One Arena. Tampa, meanwhile, improved to 4-1 away from AMALIE Arena.

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

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

Brad Marchand enrages Lightning with lick, low bridge (Video)

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Oh, boy. Here we go again.

If you thought a request from the NHL and scorn from many around the league would stop Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand from unleashing another tongue lashing an opponent, you’d be wrong.

Marchand’s tongue was the center of attention once again on Friday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With less than 90 seconds left in the second period, Marchand leaned in for the kill on Lightning forward Ryan Callahan and swiped his face with his tongue.

Marchand is in nobody’s good books, and the questionable hit (low bridge) on Callahan moments earlier already had the Lightning in an uproar.

As you’ll remember, Marchand went in for the tongue kill in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs when he licked Leo Komarov.

In an in-game interview following the hit, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper told NBC’s Pierre McGuire that Marchand’s low hit is the type that “ends careers.”

In Game 3, Marchand threw a similar hit on Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi.

The Bruins were leading the Lightning 3-2 in the third period, with Marchand notching his second assist on the Patrice Bergeron‘s go-ahead goal.


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

The Buzzer: Lightning take lead, Jones’ shutout evens series

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Wednesday’s results

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Bostons Bruins 1 (Tampa leads series 2-1): Ondrej Palat scored twice in 1:32 early on in the first period and the Lightning shut down the Bruins top line outside of a goal from Patrice Bergeron. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves in the win. The Bruins need to start scoring, with only three goals in their past two games after scoring six in Game 1. Tuukka Rask has allowed eight goals in his past two starts.

San Jose Sharks 4, Vegas Golden Knights 0 (Series tied 2-2): Martin Jone made 34 saves and the Sharks shut down William Karlsson and the rest of the Vegas Golden Knights to even the best-of-7 series 2-2. Even Marc-Andre Fleury‘s heroics throughout the playoffs were no match for the lack of run support.

Three stars

Ondrej Palat, Lightning: Two goals and the game-winner for the Lightning. Palat now has three goals in his past two games and is providing the Lightning secondary scoring on a line with Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point. It was his second game-winner in as many games.

Martin Jones, Sharks: Jones made 34 saves for his sixth career playoff shutout, including stopping seven off the stick of James Neal and another five from Karlsson.

Victor Hedman, Lightning: Hedman had two assists in the game and fire four shots on Rask while playing a series-high 26:18 on Wednesday. And he did all this while having the unenviable spot trying to shut down Boston’s top line.

Highlights

Marcus Sorensen‘s goal was a special effort:

Saucy goal:

Factoids

Thursday’s schedule

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN) — Capitals lead series 2-1

Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets, 9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN) — Jets lead series 2-1


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

Under Pressure: John Carlson

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We wrote yesterday about how most teams that win the Stanley Cup have an elite center, like Jonathan Toews.

Well, most teams that win the Cup also have an elite defenseman, like Duncan Keith, the 2015 Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Can John Carlson be that guy for the Washington Capitals?

The 25-year-old is coming off his best season as a professional. In 82 games, he had 12 goals and 43 assists, his 55 points ranking fifth among NHL defensemen, behind only Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, P.K. Subban and Dennis Wideman.

And with the departure of Mike Green, the Caps will need Carlson more than ever to provide offense from the back end, while also continuing to improve in all the other areas of his game.

“I think with Carly, there’s been areas of his game that sort of would lag, and I think he’s done a really good job of focusing on those areas, so he can have that consistency,” coach Barry Trotz said in February, per the Washington Post. “He’s maturing as a player. He’s still a very young player who’s now entering the front end of the prime of his career. There’s lot of good things to see from him.”

Related: ‘It took him a few years, but Victor Hedman’s arrived’

Tampa Bay Lightning ’15-16 Outlook

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Tampa Bay’s mantra going into this summer might as well have been “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It certainly seems that was Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s philosophy as a trip to the Stanley Cup Final has led to a quiet offseason. At the same time, there is still the potential for organic, internal changes.

Forward Jonathan Drouin might find himself playing a bigger role next season after getting limited minutes in 2014-15 and barely participating in the playoffs. He has a ton of offensive upside as illustrated by his back-to-back 100-plus point seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads. If the 20-year-old forward can build off of his 32-point rookie campaign, then he will be complimenting an already deep offensive core.

At the same time, netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy’s rise last season has changed the dynamic of Tampa Bay’s goaltending. While Ben Bishop is still the team’s starter, Vasilevskiy should start pushing him for ice time. The potential is also there for a goaltending controversy should Bishop endure a sustained cold streak.

We might also see defenseman Slater Koekkoek earn a regular spot with the Lightning after playing in three contests with Tampa Bay in 2014-15. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and might become a significant threat with the puck and factor with the man advantage.

For the most part though, the status quo is expected to remain. Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Jason Garrison should once again lead Tampa Bay’s blueline. Stamkos remains the centerpiece of the offense while the hope is that the Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat has another strong campaign.

The Lightning got a lot out of that core last season, which has earned them another chance to pursue a championship together.