T. J. Oshie and Devante Smith-Pelly scored, Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced, and the Washington Capitals beat up the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-0, on Monday night, evening up the Eastern Conference finals and forcing a deciding Game 7.
Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik led the charge, throwing their bodies around all night. Tampa Bay got 31 saves from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in another impressive showing but had no answer for the hit-everything-that-moves approach from a Washington team that was facing elimination at home.
Game 7 is scheduled for Wednesday night at Tampa Bay. The winner will face the Vegas Golden Knights, who are in the Stanley Cup finals in their first season.
The Capitals out-hit the Lightning, 39-19, and outshot them, 34-24, bruising and battering them all over the ice. Orpik separated Cedric Paquette from the puck twice on one shift. Ovechkin leveled the rookie Yanni Gourde, and Wilson was his usual self, dishing out a handful of crushing body checks.
With a physical tone set, the Capitals kept testing Vasilevskiy and eventually cracked him. There was little he could do on Oshie’s second-period power-play goal from the slot after a deft pass from Nicklas Backstrom gave Vasilevskiy little time to adjust for the one-timer.
Drawing a penalty made all the difference for Washington, which had not had a power play since the second period of Game 4. Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn hooked Smith-Pelly, giving the Capitals that opportunity, and their penalty kept Tampa Bay’s potent power play off the board for just the second time in the series.
With the Lightning pressing and Holtby shining under pressure, the Capitals had chances to go the other way. Smith-Pelly scored Washington’s second goal midway through the third, beating Vasilevskiy after his fellow fourth-liners Chandler Stephenson and Jay Beagle did the work on the forecheck to set it up.
As strong as Vasilevskiy was, the physical game took a toll on the Lightning, who were unable to muster a comeback. Oshie iced it with an empty-netter in the final minute.
The Lightning missed a chance to close out an opponent for the first time in these playoffs. They eliminated the Devils and the Bruins in five games each but are now on the brink themselves.The Capitals improved to 10-2 in the Ovechkin/Backstrom era when facing elimination any time before Game 7. They are 3-7 in Game 7s over that time.