Eastern Conference finals: Game 1
Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Amalie Arena, 8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN
• With the Capitals leading 1-0 a breakaway goal by Nikita Kucherov was waved off for too many men on the ice for Tampa. Just seconds after the non-goal and Capitals power play, Alex Ovechkin blasted one into the net to give Washington a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period. The Capitals struck again at the start of the second period to push the lead to 3-0 and then again to make it 4-0. The Lightning struck twice to make it 4-2 in the third. (Read more)
• Washington’s Tom Wilson and Tampa Bay’s J.T. Miller are physical complements for their respective teams’ top lines. (Read more)
• The Lightning have five ex-New York Rangers players — and they have a long playoff history with the Capitals. (Read more)
Bolts creep closer: Less than a minute after officials stopped play to review — and confirm — a no-goal call on a stuff attempt by Lars Eller, Tampa Bay forward Ondrej Palat cut the Capitals’ lead to 4-2 by beating Braden Holtby short side above his right blocker with 6:57 to play.
A kill for the Capitals: After Tampa Bay extended its streak of games with at least one power-play goal to six earlier in the third period, Washington’s penalty killing unit survived Alex Chiasson’s roughing penalty midway through the frame. The Capitals made a bid for a shorthanded goal when John Carlson ripped a shot off the crossbar. The Lightning are now 1 for 3 with the man advantage and Washington is 7:59 from a Game 1 win.
Caps’ power play now 2 for 4: The Amalie Arena crowd had barely finished celebrating Steven Stamkos’s goal when Chris Kunitz took down Tom Wilson to put Washington back on the power play. The Lightning’s penalty-killing unit was up to the task and Louis Domingue made his first difficult save in relief on Andrei Vasilevskiy on a shot by Alex Ovechkin to keep the Capitals’ lead at 4-1.
Bolts on the board: There goes the shutout. Fourteen seconds after Alex Chiasson was sent off for slashing less than four minutes into the third period, Steven Stamkos ripped a one-timer off a pass from Nikita Kucherov past Braden Holtby to put the Lightning on the board.
New goalie for Tampa: For the second consecutive night, a Vezina Trophy finalist was pulled from a playoff game. Thursday it was Nashville’s Pekka Rinne in the Predators’ Game 7 loss to the Jets. Tonight it’s the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made 21 saves on 25 shots in the first two periods. Looking for a spark with the Lightning trailing 4-0, Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper turned to Louis Domingue to start the third.
Domingue in for Vasilevskiy.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 12, 2018
Seriously, it could be worse for Tampa: They haven’t scored yet, but the second line of Jakub Vrana, Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie has been productive for Washington as a group. Vrana is tied with Oshie for the team lead in even-strength scoring chances with three while Eller has two shot attempts, one of those creating a juicy rebound off Tampa Bay netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Nikita Kucherov, on the other hand, not only had his goal called off due to a penalty, he has just one shot on net through two periods despite almost a minute of ice time with the man advantage.
End Period 2: Capitals 4, Lightning 0
Tampa Bay killed off Chris Kunitz’s penalty late in the second period, which qualifies as a minor victory for the Eastern Conference’s top seed in a game that’s been dominated by the Capitals. Shortly after the Lightning’s first successful penalty kill of the night, Braden Holtby foiled a Nikita Kucherov shot from a tight angle. Holtby has saved all 10 of Tampa Bay’s shots on goal and the Capitals will take a 4-0 lead into the final 20 minutes.
Doc Emrick summed up the Lightning’s performance with one word, perhaps unknowingly into a hot mic, before throwing it to commercial for the second intermission: “Woof”.
Nothing doing for the Lightning: Tampa Bay was the NHL’s highest-scoring team during the regular season and they averaged 3.4 goals per game in the second round against the Bruins, but they haven’t gotten much of anything going offensively against the Capitals. With 5:44 remaining in the second period, Washington has a 4-0 lead and a 20-8 advantage in shots. To make matters worse for the home team, Chris Kunitz headed to the penalty box for hooking. As if the Capitals needed the help.
Noisemakers, but little noise: In a move that’s arguably more infuriating than the strict no-red dress code the Lightning is enforcing for certain sections at Amalie Arena this series, the team handed out noisemakers to all fans at Game 1. With Tampa Bay trailing 4-0 midway through the second period, some of the loudest sounds from the home crowd were boos.
Make it 4-0, what took so long?: It took 41 seconds for the Capitals’ power play to strike again. Lars Eller gave Washington a 4-0 lead when he banged in a rebound to a wide-open net. Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie were credited with the assists. It is all Caps early.
Another power play for the Caps: Washington needed one second to score on its first power play of the game late in the first period. A roughing penalty on Nikita Kucherov 6:01 into the second period put the Lightning’s struggling penalty-killing unit on the ice once again.
Make it 3-0: Less than three minutes into the second period, Washington extended its lead to 3-0 on a dirty goal by Jay Beagle. Dmitry Orlov created the opportunity with a nifty move inside the blue line to set up Brett Connolly for a one-time attempt. Connolly whiffed on his shot, but got enough of the puck that it trickled toward the crease, where Beagle poked it between Andrei Vasilevskiy’s pads for his second goal of the playoffs.
The Capitals have as many goals as the Lightning has shots.
— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) May 12, 2018
Strongest start possible: During NBC Sports Washington’s pregame show, analyst Alan May said the Capitals would win Game 1 if they played a lockdown defensive game like the one they did in Monday’s series-clinching win over the Penguins. The first 20 minutes were a good start. Tampa Bay wasn’t credited with a shot on goal for the first nine minutes and finished with two in the period. At intermission, NBC Sports Network analyst Keith Jones said the Capitals played “a perfect period.”
Capitals all over the Lightning early: Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson, difference-makers in the second-round series against the Boston Bruins, allowed four unblocked shot attempts to Alex Ovechkin’s line and were on the ice for Michal Kempny’s goal against, the first even-strength goal the Lightning has allowed in four games.
Tampa Bay’s shutdown pair of Victor Hedman and Dan Girardi didn’t fare much better against Washington’s second line of Jakub Vrana, Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie, allowing five shot attempts and three scoring chances in addition to also being on the ice for the first goal of the game.
End Period 1: Capitals 2, Lightning 0
Well, that was interesting. Shortly after it appeared Tampa tied the game, the goal was wiped out by a too-many-men penalty. On the ensuing power play, Alex Ovechkin blasted home a slap shot off the faceoff to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead.
A two-goal swing: Instead of the game being tied 1-1, Tampa Bay’s penalty for too many men resulted in a Capitals power play and a faceoff in the offensive zone. Before NBC Sports Network play-by-play man Doc Emrick could finish describing Washington’s deadly power play, T.J. Oshie won said faceoff to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who found Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer and a 2-0 Capitals lead with six seconds remaining.
Capitals kill game’s first penalty: With 2:26 to play in the first period, the Lightning went to the power play after Matt Niskanen was whistled for holding Steven Stamkos. Niskanen didn’t have much choice after Tampa Bay’s speedy center skated between him and Dmitry Orlov and would’ve had a breakaway on Braden Holtby. Washington’s penalty killing unit was up to the task.
Another chance for the Caps: While Braden Holtby has enjoyed a relatively calm first period, Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to keep Tampa Bay in the game. Less than two minutes after his big save on Brett Connolly, the Lightning goalie slid across the crease to make a pad save on a one-timer by Lars Eller. With four minutes remaining in the period, almost all of the scoring chances in Game 1 have belonged to the Capitals.
Big save: Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t have a chance on Michael Kempny’s opening goal, but he showed why he’s a Vezina Trophy finalist four minutes later, stoning Brett Connolly in front of the net off a perfect pass from Chandler Stephenson. With 8:21 remaining the first period, shots were 5-1 Washington.
Capitals strike first: With 12:32 remaining in the first period, Michal Kempny fired a wrist shot from the point through traffic that beat Andrei Vasilevskiy glove side to give Washington a 1-0 lead. It was Kempny’s first career playoff goal and marked the 10th time in 13 games this postseason that the Capitals have scored first. Washington is 6-3 in its previous nine such games.
Lots of action, few shots: Almost seven minutes into Game 1, the Capitals have a modest 2-0 advantage in shots. After a strong shift spent almost entirely in the Tampa Bay zone, Dmitry Orlov ripped a shot from the point that Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside. The Lightning have a 7-6 advantage in hits, but the biggest check belongs to Brooks Orpik, who leveled Ondrej Palat as the Tampa Bay winger approached the blue line, leading to an offside.
The matchup game: As expected, Lightning coach Jon Cooper matched his shutdown line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson against the Capitals’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov for the opening faceoff. Led by the 22-year-old Point, Tampa Bay’s second line frustrated the Bruins’ top line centered by Patrice Bergeron for the final four games of of the Lightning’s five-game triumph in the second round. With Nicklas Backstrom out with a hand injury, the pressure will be on Washington’s second-line center Lars Ellers. The Capitals’ second line generated the game’s first shot 1:16 into the first period.
As expected, Point line starting against Kuznetsov line. Eller line will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting against Stamkos line.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 12, 2018
The Lightning’s top threats: Tampa Bay superstars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov skated together for 778 minutes at even strength during the regular season, outscoring opponents 53 to 38. They’ve shared 111 minutes in the playoffs, outscoring opponents 4 to 1. However, the Lightning’s second line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson has done most of the heavy lifting, skating against the opponents top line. Not only has that trio outscored the opposition (9 to 5) during this playoff run, they also have the edge in scoring chances (64 to 52), including those from the slot and the crease (23 to 15).
On the Tampa power play, it’s Miller time: The Lightning’s power play was one of the best this season, both during the regular season and playoffs, but if Washington’s penalty kill gets preoccupied with Stamkos and Kucherov, it might be J.T. Miller who becomes the hero. The former New York Ranger has 11 scoring chances in the playoffs with the man advantage, second on the team after Kucherov, with a team-high six from the high-danger areas. He’s a playmaker, too, and helps Tampa Bay generate chances from the right half wall and down low near the goal line.
Forecheck it out: Tampa Bay uses a “wide” 1-2-2 forecheck which could slow the Caps through the neutral zone. It works by having the first forward (F1) steer the opposing puck handler to one side with the two other forwards (F2 and F3) lingering in the neutral zone far apart from each other, or “wide,” to take away forward passing lanes. The Lightning’s defensemen (D1 and D2), on the other hand, keep a tight gap in the middle of the ice, looking to intercept passes.
This forecheck forced the Bruins forwards to dump the puck in the offensive zone rather than enter with control, and also forced Boston’s puck carriers into turnovers, resulting in odd-man rushes the other way. During the regular season, Boston attempted 54 percent of all even-strength shots on net and 55 percent of all scoring chances in their games, both the highest marks in the NHL. In the series against Tampa Bay they were outshot 125 to 99 and saw fewer scoring chances, 108 to 83.
The way Washington counters Tampa Bay’s 1-2-2 wide forecheck is by either taking advantage when one of the Lightning defensemen pinches and then counterattacks, puts pressure on the boards (via a drop pass to one of its forwards skating through the neutral zone) or by getting its defensemen more involved in attacking the zone. This could actually work well for Washington, since according to zone-entry data compiled by Corey Sznajder and Sean Tierny, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov are both good at gaining entry to the offensive zone with possession.
Some still rock the red: While Tampa Bay instituted a strict dress code for fans stating they weren’t allowed to wear red in some parts of Amalie Arena during the series, there was a fair amount of red clothing scattered throughout the arena and near the glass during warmups (though most arenas allow all ticket holders close to the glass pre-game, then clear them out). The dress code affects about 10 percent of Amalie Arena seating and fans are to abide by these rules in the Lightning’s Lexus Lounge, which includes seats against the glass, or in the Chase Club luxury suites.
Backstrom out, but Caps get two top forwards back: Nicklas Backstrom will miss a second straight game with a right hand injury. Backstrom skated with some light stickhandling on Thursday morning, but he wasn’t on the ice with the team on Friday. Center Lars Eller will center a second line with wingers T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana. The Capitals will also have Tom Wilson back from suspension, and Andre Burakovsky is back in the lineup after missing the past 10 games with an undisclosed “upper-body” injury.
Top story lines
• Injuries: Center Nicklas Backstrom didn’t participate in the Capitals’ morning skate on Friday, and though Coach Barry Trotz said he’s a “game-time decision,” expect Backstrom to miss a second straight playoff game with a right hand injury. Washington won Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins without him by playing low-event, defensive-minded hockey. This time, the Capitals will at least have left wing Andre Burakovsky back in the lineup. Burakovsky has missed the past 10 games with an “upper-body” injury that required surgery, and he practiced on Washington’s third line Friday morning, a significant boost to the team’s forward depth.
“I’m just going to try to play a smart and easy game,” Burakovsky said. “I mean, you don’t get a lot of chances and you don’t get a lot of opportunity and room to do something out there, so you have to manage the game and play a simple game.”
With Backstrom out, center Lars Eller will center the Capitals’ second line with T.J. Oshie and rookie Jakub Vrana. Backstrom had 21 goals and 50 assists in the regular season, and he has three goals and 10 assists through 11 playoff games. He also plays on Washington’s top power play and kills penalties.
“If Nick can’t go or if he can, we’re going to be comfortable with our lineup,” Oshie said.
• Matchups: Expect Tampa Bay’s second line with center Brayden Point and wingers Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson to be tasked with defending Washington’s top trio with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and superstar captain Alex Ovechkin. Point’s line initially struggled with containing Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand — Point finished Game 1 with a minus-five rating — but the group improved as the series went on, one of the reasons the Lightning dispatched the Bruins in five games. Point is also one of Tampa Bay’s top offensive players with 32 goals and 34 assists.
“The one thing they had to get out of their head was that they had to outscore the other line,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said. “The big thing is, don’t let them score. And then whatever happens after that happens.”
• New blood: With the Capitals beating the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, there’ll be a new victor this season. Of the final four teams left standing — Washington, Tampa Bay, Vegas and Winnipeg — only the Lightning have won a Cup.
“They’re all good stories,” Trotz said. “The same old story sometimes can get old. Once in a while a new chapter is written, and it’ll be good. This year there will be a new chapter.”
• Emotional letdown or catapult? After a 20-year drought, the Washington Capitals have finally advanced to the Eastern Conference final, a first for all but three players in the locker room. The team has said its goal remains a Stanley Cup, not just a third round. But will an emotional Game 6 overtime win against Pittsburgh on Monday and getting over the second-round hump propel Washington in Game 1 against Tampa Bay, or will it cause them to lose focus?
“It’s over,” Ovechkin said of the team’s second-round series against Pittsburgh. “Obviously, we understand right now that there are only four teams left. We have a huge opportunity to win another.”
Tom Wilson: Washington’s 24-year-old power forward missed the final three games of the Capitals’ second-round series because he was suspended for an illegal check to the head of Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese. The team struggled to find a replacement for him beside Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, as he excels at using his physicality to create space and keep pucks alive for those two. Wilson has two goals and five assists through nine games, and he might have to err on the side of caution with his checking because he’s considered a “repeat offender” by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
J.T. Miller: Since the blockbuster trade that sent Miller and defenseman Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay, Miller has has recorded 10 goals and eight assists while averaging 18:11 time on ice. He’s scored twice this postseason to go along with five assists, a blue-collar, top-line complement to Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, much like Wilson is for Ovechkin and Kuznetsov.
“You have to have a guy that has hockey sense and skill enough to make plays with these guys and I think Miller definitely has that, and I look across the hallway and Wilson has really evolved his game to be able to make plays for those guys,” Cooper said. “So because that’s the other thing too, the other two guys are looking, they want to get the puck so somebody has to go in, get it for them and then be able to make plays to them and Miller can most definitely do that.”
Immerse yourself in the Capitals’ postseason with The Post’s coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs:
Washington’s expected lineup
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky-Chandler Stephenson-Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos
Braden Holtby (starter)
Tampa Bay’s expected lineup
J.T. Miller-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman-Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh-Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn-Mikahil Sergachev
Andrei Vasilevskiy (starter)