4 Things from Game 1 between the Capitals and Lightning
There was no hangover from their hard-fought and cathartic series win against the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Washington Capitals as they went into Amalie Arena and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 to take a 1-0 series lead. Here are four things that stood out while watching the game.
1. Early scoring
Despite having the third best winning percentage when scoring first throughout the regular season, the Capitals have been known to give myself and other fans bouts of heartburn in years past because of their special ability to blow leads.
That pattern of losing after putting themselves in a position to win, whether it be in individual games or entire series --like in 2015 when they blew a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers-- has made it easy to be skeptical when they get on the board early.
That being said, it's still extremely important they play from ahead and not behind because of the skill Tampa has throughout their lineup. This is part of why last night's goal from Michal Kempný was so important. In their first game since they achieved the seemingly impossible task of defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins, I was worried that they might come out slow or think they had already faced their toughest task. Scoring just 7:28 into the first period proved that wouldn't be the case:
The quick goal was a result of the Caps early pressure and great traffic in-front of the net. Tampa net-minder Andrei Vasilevskiy had no chance of seeing the shot with the five bodies in-front of him, let alone stopping it.
2. Caps Shot Blocking
If you looked at just the shots on goal for each team for the game, you wouldn't see the full story. While the Capitals did outplay the Lightning for the first two periods -- and led the shots on goal category 25-10 through two -- the discrepancy in shots on goal was a product of Washington's shot blocking ability.
The Caps blocked 19 shots in the game -- almost equaling the 21 total shots the Lightning managed to get on net -- with 12 of these blocks coming in the first period alone. That's important. Not only does it help work Braden Holtby into the game and preserve the lead, but it showed that the Capitals are able to play solid defensive hockey and are willing to get dirty. 10 of Washington's 18 skaters had a blocked shot, an impressive statistic when you consider that only John Carlson and Brooks Orpik were in the top 50 players in the league in blocked shots this season.
Tampa had only two shots in the first period, and while Washington can't be expected to block 12 shots per period, the interest and effort on the defensive side should be a scary sight for the Lightning.
3. OVI OVI OVI
The Capitals star winger made his presence felt all over the ice during Game 1. He had a goal, an assist, three shots on goal, three hits, a blocked shot, and was named the first Star of the Game.
But to narrow down more than just his stellar counting stats, it was the timing of his goal -- the Capitals second of the game -- that had such a huge impact on the team.
Following what looked to be the game-tying goal for the Lightning being called back due to them having too many men on the ice, the Capitals went to the power play with just 7.1 seconds left in the first.
Ovi only needed 4.2
And just like that, what looked to be a tie game going into the second period turned into a 2-0 lead for the Capitals. It was the kind of goal that destroys the confidence and will of the opposition, all the while being even harder to stomach because it came from the stick of the Russian star.
4. Stepping on their throat
Despite the huge momentum shift going into the first intermission, as a Capitals fan it was easy to be nervous because of our aforementioned propensity to blow leads, and also apparent that it was important for the team to come out strong and not give the Lightning a chance to fight back.
It was almost as if Jay Beagle could hear my thoughts.
The goal came at the 2:40 mark of the second period as the Caps showed they were not willing to sit on their 2-0 lead and extended it to 3-0. They realized as much as I did that the Lightning would have a run of their own.
Stepping on the Lightning's throat further was Lars Eller, who scored the Caps second power play goal of the game to put it sufficiently out of the Bolt's reach.
Eller's goal made it 4-0, a lead that even the most hardened Capitals fan would be satisfied with, but the third period was not perfect by any means and the Lightning clawed back to make it a game at 4-2.
The Caps are known for their ineptitude and choking in the playoffs after Presidents' trophies and regular season dominance, but there's a chance that third period might have been the best thing that could have happened to them.
Not only did it show them that Tampa will not be willing to roll over, it also showed Washington that just as easily as they can control the game when they're rolling, the Bolts can have their way with the Caps if they aren't playing at the top of their game.
It's a lesson they can't afford to forget if they want to make their first Stanley Cup in 20 years.
Photo credit USA today