WASHINGTON — The Capitals returned to Washington earlier this week with a 2-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals, home-ice advantage and momentum.
Now, though, the Capitals will head back to Tampa for Game 5 Saturday in a much different spot. The Lightning won both games in Washington, thanks to power play that kept producing and two strong efforts from goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The series is deadlocked at 2-2 after Tampa Bay’s 4-2 victory Thursday night. The Lightning won by the same score two nights earlier. The two victories came despite Tampa Bay being outshot by 76-43 over the two games.
The Lightning made the most of their scoring chances thanks in part to a power play that has scored in nine consecutive playoff games. In this series, 6 of their 12 goals have come via the power play.
“Clearly, we’ve needed it, especially in those first couple games we weren’t scoring 5-on-5 at all — it was all power play,” Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper said. “But when the power play keeps clicking and then you are scoring a couple of goals, chipping in 5-on-5, all of a sudden your two goals a game go to four, and when you’re scoring that many, it’s giving you a better chance to win the game.”
The Lightning took a 2-1 lead in the first period on a power-play goal by Steven Stamkos, his fourth with a man-advantage in this series and sixth of the postseason. Tampa Bay gained a 3-2 lead with 8 minutes 3 seconds left in the game with an Alex Killorn goal that came six seconds after a Washington penalty expired.
Washington center Lars Eller gave the Tampa Bay power play some help in the past two games. During the regular season, Eller finished with 38 minutes in penalties but was sent to the box five times during the two games in Washington — three times in Game 3 and twice in Game 4.
Tampa Bay scored a power-play goal while Eller was off in Game 3 and another in Game 4, and Killorn scored his tiebreaking goal just after Eller left the penalty box.
“That’s way too many,” Washington Coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s on Lars.”
Trotz added: “He’s been great in this series; he’s played very well. We’ve just got to get him out of the box.”
The Lightning needed the power-play success. They went nearly 21 minutes without a shot on goal from the middle of the first period to a similar point in the second.
Tampa Bay got some more special teams help from its penalty killing, a weakness during the regular season.
The Lightning killed off all seven Washington power plays in Games 3 and 4, including three in the first period Thursday. Cooper said those penalties might have left his team a tired during a second period dominated by the Capitals.
But the Lightning still escaped that second period with a 2-2 tie, then scored the only two goals in the third period.
For the second straight game, Vasilevskiy made 36 saves. He allowed a total of four goals during the two Washington games, after giving up 10 goals during the first two games in Tampa.
“You love your games when you don’t really need your goaltender and your team’s playing well in front of you,” Cooper said. “When you don’t have your ‘A’ game, you need your goalie to have his ‘A’ game, and he sure did.”
There were a few positives for Washington. Center Nicklas Backstrom returned after missing four games because of a right-hand injury. He finished with four shots on goal and won nine of 13 face-offs.
The Capitals are also 7-1 on the road during the playoffs. They fell to 3-5 at home after these two losses in Washington, which Alex Ovechkin, held to one assist in the two home defeats, said they must forget about quickly.
“Of course, it’s a missed opportunity,” he said. “It sucks that we lost two in a row. Nothing we can do. We’re just going to look forward. It’s a huge test, and we’ll see what happens.”