Capitals force Game 7 with hard-hitting home win over Lightning

By – The Washington Times – Monday, May 21, 2018

Here’s a sentence you haven’t read in 20 years: The are one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.

A two-games-to-none series lead evaporated last week, and the faced what could have been another embarrassing elimination in front of a home crowd Monday night. But forget that.

“We took the tough path after going up 2-0, but that’s all behind us,” Brooks Orpik said.

The broke their three-game losing streak and won Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals 3-0 at Capital One Arena. They forced a Game 7 Wednesday in Tampa Bay to decide who will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final.

scored on a power play and an empty net, added a goal and Braden Holtby made 24 saves to earn his first postseason shutout in two years (and his first shutout of the year, including regular season).

In the do-or-die setting, the had to play desperate, but don’t tell the that.

“We played with not really a sense of desperation, because I don’t think we felt desperate out there, but a pretty direct urgency,” said, “and it was throughout the entire lineup. From Holts all the way through, everyone made an impact on the game tonight and that’s when we’re at our best.”

Particularly in the second period, the controlled the game with physicality, led by their captain. Ovechkin landed hits throughout the game, whether he had the puck or wanted it. The out-hit Tampa Bay 39-19, including four from Ovechkin, six from Brooks Orpik and six from Tom Wilson.

“(Ovechkin) was huge. He was flying around, he was finishing checks,” said. “He was skating hard, and when we see that and the crowd gets excited, we all feed off of it. He had a huge game and although he didn’t get a point or a goal or anything like that, guys on the bench definitely were feeding off the way he was playing.”

Despite the ups and downs of the series, there has not been a particular turning point in coach Barry Trotz’s opinion, only one important consistency within their attitude.

“It’s a game of inches and you have to roll with the punches this time of year. We’ve been able to do that. Turning point for me is (that) we’ve never wavered no matter what,” Trotz said.

Rather than fall behind early the way they did in Games 4 and 5, the took control and in the first 10 minutes and the offense had its chances. Evgeny Kuznetsov and had a short 2-on-1 breakaway in the middle of a line change, but a Lightning defenseman got his stick on the would-be assist. Kuznetsov’s line came back with a strong shift in the offensive zone to continue setting the tone.

The Lightning saw an O-zone rush deflated when Brooks Orpik and J.T. Miller dropped their gloves for a fight. The Kuznetsov line had more chances shortly thereafter. Ovechkin rifled a shot from the circle just wide, then redirected a Tom Wilson shot but had the puck kicked away by Andrei Vasilevskiy.

For the first time since Game 1, the Lightning didn’t score in the first period.

In the early second, on a Jay Beagle hooking, the went on the first penalty kill of the day and successfully kept the Lightning out of the net. Outside those two minutes, everyone from Andre Burakovsky to Brett Connolly threatened to score. The Lightning offense matched them shot for shot for a while, until the pulled off a string of 12 shots on goal without Tampa Bay taking one for more than 11 minutes.

Braydon Coburn was called for hooking to set up the ‘ first power play of the game, and 15:12 into the second, Washington finally broke the scoreless tie. First, a John Carlson shot got close enough to send fans into a frenzy, but actually careened off the post or back bar.

But moments later, Nicklas Backstrom found in the slot for a slap shot goal. It was their first goal with the man advantage since Game 2; the unit had gone 0-7 in the ‘ three losses this series.

The Lightning only took 14 shots through two periods but came out stronger offensively in the third. The scoring chances that weren’t stopped by Holtby dribbled away before Tampa Bay could shoot. Lightning coach Jon Cooper lamented his team’s giveaways.

“(The ) are being physical, crowd’s behind them and we’re spending way too much time in our D zone. That’s what hurt us,” Cooper said. “We had some chances in the third. That first half of the third period, we were pushing, they were spending all the time in their D zone they were icing the puck all the time and we just couldn’t find it.”

, playing on the fourth line Monday, added his goal midway through the third. Beagle snagged a loose puck in the corner and passed to Chandler Stephenson behind the net, who fed in front of Vasilevskiy.

The play started with Stephenson and Coburn chasing a puck cleared up the ice. It could have become an icing, but Stephenson said he “didn’t really want to put that up to chance.”

“I just saw Devo throw it and I just took off, tried to beat it out,” Stephenson said. “Beags got up ice, made a great play down low and Devo made a great play to get up ice and beat his check.”

Tampa Bay couldn’t make anything happen to get out of the two-goal hole, even after pulling Vasilevskiy in favor of a sixth skater. scored an empty-netter in the final minute.

In the past 50 years, no team has lost a conference final or Stanley Cup Final series after winning the first two games on the road. Washington avoided becoming the first team with that dubious mark Monday, but still needs to win Game 7 to advance.

“We just keep taking whatever challenge is thrown at us and build off it,” Trotz said. “This group doesn’t waver. It has a spirit about it, a strong spirit.”

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