NHL Game Night: 3-16-19 Capitals at Lightning

Alex Killorn temporarily burns down our website with a hat trick that stamps a Lightning statement win.

WSH-3
TB-6

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 34 shots for the victory. There was A LOT of puck luck that factored into at least a couple of Washington's goals, and you can also make the strong argument that Vasilevskiy's play in the Second Period and a few other times the Lightning defense was leaky was ultimately the margin in the contest.

First Period
8:35 TB Johnson (26), (Point, Kucherov)
10:33 TB Killorn (14), (unassisted)
12:06 WSH Carlson (12), (Kuznetsov)
15:56 TB Killorn (15), (Cirelli, Joseph)

Second Period
7:33 WSH Ovechkin (47), (Oshie, Carlson)(PP)

Third Period
2:45 TB Cernak (4), (McDonagh, Palat)
12:56 WSH Ovechkin (48), (Orlov, Connolly)
19:13 TB Killorn (16), (Kucherov)(EN)
19:58 TB Gourde (19), (Erne, Hedman)(EN)

Alex Killorn and Erik Cernak were the game's first and second stars.

This was a nerve-wracking game for Lightning partisans, but I think the overall evidence presented points to the Lightning having significantly improved in this match-up relative to the last time these teams played in the ECF. It wasn't the typical Lightning statement game where they blew a team out, despite what the score indicates, but they did start the game that way by dominating the First Period en route to building an initial 3-1 lead. They did not handle Washington's push back in the Second Period well, particularly from Washington's star players, and it took Vasilevskiy heroics for them to get out of the middle stanza with a lead. Fortunately, they upped their intensity in the Third Period, got a bit of help on a semi-soft goal allowed by Holtby, and that ended up being the GWG. They had ample opportunities to push that advantage to the all-important three goal margin but failed to do so, to my lament, and found themselves in a tight position late in the Third Period after a lucky end boards bounce gave Ovechkin a goal into an open side and a McDonagh penalty gave Washington a chance to tie on the PP. The Lightning ultimately pulled through though, thanks in no small part to a much improved PK (now tops in the league) and faceoffs (Tampa Bay won a staggering 65% of the draws on the night).

It was a mixed bag, but more good than bad in that bag. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos managed an anemic 3 SOG between them, and none until the Third Period, while Victor Hedman at times struggled over the course of the evening (although his stat line at +2 did not reflect it). The Lightning's best players can play A LOT better than they did tonight, in my opinion, and yet the Lightning still had fairly convincing win. Why? Their third and fourth lines trashed their counterparts on the Caps. That was a big weakness in the ECF last season and arguably the Lightning's lack of depth may have been what led them to completely wear down and grind to a halt in Game Six and Seven of that series. In tonight's game, Alex Killorn may have triggered the end of days with a hat trick and I thought the Paquette line also spent the bulk of their time on ice inside the Washington zone on the forecheck. In other words, a bunch of the little things you need to go your way at playoff time (PK, faceoffs, lower line play) all flipped to the Lightning's advantage in this game where they weren't in the ECF last year. Small sample size? You betcha. But, there's also two more games against the Caps in the regular season to try and turn this game into a trend.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.