Washington Capitals Force Game 7: Beat Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0

Braden Holtby
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If you haven’t been watching this series or couldn’t catch Game Six, you’ve missed out on some of the best hockey of the year. As Jeremy Roenick said on NBCSN, “if you guys are not enjoying this sitting on your couches…then you’re not a hockey fan, because this is a hockey game“.

The good news is, you’re still in luck. It is not yet over.

After dropping three consecutive games to go from up 2-0 in the series to down 3-2, the Washington Capitals staved off elimination with a victory in Game 6. Braden Holtby stopped all of the 22 shots he faced for his fifth career playoff shutout, propelling his team past the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 2-0. Game 7 will be Wednesday night (8:00 pm EDT). Wednesday’s victor will take on the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Caps 3 – Bolts 0

Before Game 5, every game in the series had been won on the road. This gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead on their way to Washington for Games 3 and 4. Tampa surprisingly matched that road success, setting up a best-of-three situation for Games 5, 6 and 7. For the first time this postseason, the Capitals faced elimination Monday night as Tampa Bay aimed to win their fourth straight game and oust the Caps in six.

Period One: Vasilevskiy Continues to Dominate

While the shot count didn’t appear all that bad for either team (eight to six, in favour of Washington), Andrei Vasilevskiy was the best player for the first 20 minutes. He controlled the game in Tampa’s zone and absolutely robbed Evgeny Kuznetsov in the final minute with his glove along the goal line. As I said in my Game 2 recap, Vasilevskiy had to improve in order to give them a chance in the series. Now, with his team up in the series and just one win from the Stanley Cup Finals, he has been stellar since that second game. I called it…

Washington played with a lot of urgency, inevitably leading to a more physical game as well. Alex Ovechkin threw the body hard and often, and his intensity simply permeated through the Caps lineup. Devante Smith-Pelly continued to be a major difference maker in the series as well.

As a team, they had already reached double digits in hits by the end of the first. J.T. Miller and Brooks Orpik (the only Capitals player with a Stanley Cup ring) dropped the gloves as well in the final five minutes. A tight, physical period began what felt like could be a long, close Game 6.

Period Two: Seesaw Battle Favors Washington

The first half of the second period felt as though the Lightning were poised to close out the series. The momentum swung in their favour early when Jay Beagle took a hooking penalty against Anton Stralman. The Caps came up with a big kill, after which the ice tilted dramatically in their favour.

After Tampa took the first four shots of the period, the Caps fired fourteen of the next sixteen. They also held commanding advantages in shots (Washington’s 23 to Tampa’s 14), takeaways (11-4) hits (29-13), and face-off percentage (60%-40%).

More importantly, they found the back of the net on their first power play of the night after Braydon Coburn hooked Smith-Pelly immediately after a defensive zone draw. After a close call off the post, T.J. Oshie delivered the night’s icebreaker, while Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov picked up assists.

The Caps had numerous other stellar opportunities, especially in the final minute of the period. Vasilevskiy came up huge on two separate chances on the rush directly in front of him. One save came off a cross ice one-timer that Vasilevskiy got in front of just enough to slow it to a stop behind him, between his legs but still a couple feet from the goal line.

Period Three: Caps Hang On

A lot happened at both ends, too much to highlight every play. Hockey is a game of mistakes, and the Caps Smith-Pelly capitalized on one to make it a two-goal game halfway through the period. Coburn let up while chasing an iced puck, and Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson hounded him enough to get icing waived off. This resulted in a turnover behind the net, and once again Washington’s depth forwards chipped in on offence. Smith-Pelly’s snap shot goal, by Vasilevskiy’s blocker on a feed from behind the net, brought his total to four this postseason. He’s arguably been the best depth or role forward in the entire NHL since the Stanley Cup Playoffs began.

Ultimately, the Bolts did not have the same jump they’d had in the last few games of the series. The Capitals fed off the energy in the building, and they looked hungry from the first puck drop. Tampa Bay simply didn’t look that way, and they never truly made any significant push to tie the game up. In fact, the best scoring chances, even on the Lightning’s own power plays, came from the Capitals. 

Oshie potted his second of the game (and series) on an empty net in the final minute.

The shot count finished at a lopsided 34 for the Caps and just 22 for the Lightning.

Preparing for Wednesday Night’s Showdown

Tampa Bay needs to wake up for Game 7, as they slept through Game 6. That is not to take anything away from the Capitals and their performance, but when you have the talent and depth that the Lightning do, it is unacceptable to have so few opportunities. I don’t remember Steven Stamkos doing a single thing tonight…that can’t happen Wednesday.

Home ice advantage has seemingly been irrelevant in this series to this point, with both franchises emerging victorious once in their three home games, respectively. This has Washington licking its lips, as they hope that trend continues in Tampa Bay Wednesday. If tonight was the biggest game in Oshie, Holtby, Ovechkin and Co’s career, Game Seven will just take that title for itself.

Tampa’s leaders will have to match the intensity brought to the table by Washington, as Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Oshie and Backstrom took their games to another level. Vasilevskiy must still be their rock in net, just as Holtby has to be for Washington. If Game Six was any indication, prepare for a close Game Seven.

My prediction: Caps will win Game Seven, 2-1 in double overtime.

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