Road warrior Capitals grab control of Eastern final
Evgeny Kuznetsov scored off a lucky bounce late in the second period as the Washington Capitals seized command of the Eastern Conference final with a lopsided 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy misplayed a Kuznetsov centring pass that deflected into the net at the end of the second period to make it 4-2, helping the Capitals take a two games to none playoff series lead.
“We played hard and we played smart,” said Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. “All four lines did their job. We waited for our opportunities.”
The series now shifts from Florida to Washington on Tuesday night where the Capitals will try to take a 3-0 stranglehold.
Kuznetsov also had two assists, Lars Eller finished with a goal and two assists and Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who are in the semi-finals for the first time in two decades.
They are playing for a spot in the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup finals against either the Las Vegas Golden Knights or Winnipeg.
The Jets have a 1-0 series lead.
Russian forward Kuznetsov said he doesn’t know how to explain it but he performs better in road games like Sunday’s contest at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. He loves the idea of sweeping the series with two wins at home but can’t wait to get back to Florida if the series goes that far.
“I don’t know man. The last couple of years I just been dreaming to play all games on the road. I don’t know why,” Kuznetsov said. “I feel bad for our fans. I want to play in front of them, but overall I really like to be on the road.”
The Capitals are also winning without their top two-way player Nicklas Backstrom who is out with a hand injury. His place in the lineup has been taken by Eller who has stepped out of the shadows to give the Capitals the extra punch they need.
Eller was instrumental on both plays when the turning point came in the final minute of the second period.
He scored the eventual winner with 62 seconds left and then assisted on Kuznetsov’s powerplay goal.
The Capitals were given a powerplay with 10 seconds left after netminder Vasilevskiy tripped Washington’s Andre Burakovsky, sending the Swedish forward hard into the end boards.
– Turning point –
Vasilevskiy then attempted to intercept Kuznetsov’s centring pass to Eller but the puck hit his blocker and went in just before the buzzer to give the Capitals a two-goal lead heading into the intermission.
Tampa tried to battle back in the third but the Capitals did a good job of slowing them down and not allowing them to utilize their speed and skill around the net.
Holtby also made clutch saves when he had to. He had back-to-back stops from in close on Tampa forward Brayden Point on the powerplay halfway through the third.
Washington forward Brett Connolly scored at 12:57 after taking a pass on his stick blade and then, like a lacrosse player, whipping the puck into the upper half of the net to round out the scoring.
Russia’s Ovechkin, with his team-leading 10th goal of the postseason, Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly also scored for the Capitals.
Point and Steven Stamkos scored goals for Tampa, who may have dug a hole too deep to climb out of by losing the first two games on home ice.
Vasilevskiy finished with 31 saves.