Fight Night in Tampa; Caps Lose 6-3 in First Meeting of the Season

TLDR: John Carlson scores one, Ovechkin pots a pair, and the penalty kill was perfect, but a once-optimistic comeback effort wouldn’t be enough. Tampa Bay, refs win 6-3. 

Tonight’s match-up between the Tampa Bay Lightning and your Washington Capitals would be one for the record books. The reigning Stanley Cup Champions versus the best team in the league for 6 months, for the first time since the Capitals won the Eastern Conference Final. This game had the potential to be yet another scrimmage for a future play-off series. We’ve been saying this a lot lately, but it’s because of the heavy, difficult schedule the Caps have faced. Nearly every team that the Capitals have and will face in the last quarter of the season already have or are fighting for a playoff spot. The Lightning power play has been electric, but the Capitals’ penalty kill has improved greatly with recent acquisitions. However, the Capitals cannot afford to go short-handed against this Tampa team. Unfortunately, it would be the Tampa Bay Lightning that would be victorious.

Whether it be getting on the board, or keeping them off of it, it was imperative for the Capitals to get an early jump on Tampa. Unfortunately, that would not be the case. Many thought this would be a high-scoring affair, as both teams boast offensive firepower. Initially, it was difficult to determine who played the better first period, as it was obvious the Capitals intended on playing a tight game. Play never appeared to be ‘out of control’ for either team, though the Caps had a couple of high-danger scoring chances early on. But the Bolts would answer that question pretty quickly. It took nearly half a period to do it, but Tyler Johnson would be the first on the board, giving the Lightning a 1-0 lead. So as to not dig themselves a deeper hole, it would be extremely important for the Caps to respond quickly. A clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Wilson on Sergachev would send the Tampa blueliner down the tunnel, though on his own power.

It wouldn’t take long for Tampa to take a 2-0 lead after a deflection off of Caps’ defenseman Dmitry Orlov from the corner ended up in the wrong net. Alex Killorn would ultimately be credited with the goal. Not long after, the Caps would respond with a rocket by John ‘Hardest Shot in the League’ Carlson, cutting Tampa’s lead to just one.

Alex Killorn would score his ‘own’ goal, giving Tampa a 3-1 lead, as Nick Jensen found himself unable to hold him off in front of Caps’ netminder Braden Holtby. The first power play of the night would end up going to the Washington Capitals, as Ondrej Palat was called for high-sticking. Unfortunately, the Caps power play would end as Tom Wilson would go off for hooking, so 4-on-4 play would resume for 32 seconds, and Tampa would then have their first power play. But THEN Brett Connolly would be called for holding, so Tampa would have a two-man advantage. Heading into the first intermission, Tampa would have the lead, 3-1.

The Capitals would start the second period on the penalty kill as the Bolts two-man advantage overlapped from the first. Much to Caps’ fans delight, the penalty kill units successfully kept Tampa’s lead at just two. Nikita Kucherov would be nicked for interference, much to the dismay of Lightning fans, so the Capitals would get another opportunity to reduce their deficit. Alex Ovechkin would finally beat Vasilevskiy on the power play, bringing the Caps within one.

Instead of the Capitals heading to the power play for either interference or boarding against Wilson, it would be Tampa getting another man advantage, as Evgeny Kuznetsov was sent off for slashing. The Capitals needed to kill off this penalty and thankfully, they did. The Capitals would snag a power play late in the 2nd as Ryan McDonagh would go off for roughing T.J. Oshie. Despite Vasilevskiy losing his goalie stick, the Caps wouldn’t score prior to the buzzer. However, they would start the third period in the same fashion Tampa started the second; with a power play. The Capitals played a much better middle frame, and hopefully, they could end the game on top.

With about 30 seconds of overlap power play time, the Capitals weren’t able to capitalize early in the third. Erik Cernak would re-establish Tampa’s two-goal lead as he snuck the puck five-hole just three minutes into the period. Matt Niskanen would be called for holding, so Tampa would be gifted yet another power play. As usual, the refereeing tonight was absolutely abysmal. The Caps would successfully kill off the penalty. Courtesy of a juicy rebound off the board behind the goal, Alex Ovechkin would pot his second goal of the night, once agains, bringing the Caps within one.

The Capitals would gain an opportunity to tie the game, as they went back on the power play with just under six minutes left. They wouldn’t tie it. Todd Reirden would elect to pull Holtby for the extra attacker, again, but the Caps would allow another hat trick by the opposition, as Killorn would seal the deal with an empty-net goal. Another lost face-off would lead to yet another empty net goal, this time by Yanni Gourde. No Tampa Bay player has ever scored a hat trick against the Capitals, but there’s a first time for everything. A valiant come-back effort by the Capitals wouldn’t be enough, and Tampa would win the first of three meetings between the two, 6-3.

FiCP's Three Takeaways of the Game

1. Puck management needs to improve, especially against teams as successful as Tampa. 

2. Less penalties, please.

3. Stop electing to pull the goalie. Now.

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