- The road team still reigns in the Eastern Conference Final as Tampa Bay evens the series in D.C.
Alex Killorn’s third-period goal lifted the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals in Game 4 and knotted the Eastern Conference Final.
The Lightning forward, who hadn’t scored since Game 3 of the team’s first-round matchup with the Devils—a span of 10 games—took a pass from Ondrej Palat while all alone in the slot and quickly deposited the puck behind Capitals goalie Braden Holtby for the game-winner at 11:57 of the period.
While the tally didn’t come on the power play—Lars Eller’s penalty for hooking ended six seconds earlier—the Lightning’s dominance with the man advantage helped them come away with a win in a game they were held without a shot for over 20 minutes. Steven Stamkos’s first-period strike made it nine straight games in which the Bolts notched a power-play tally.
“When you get this far in the playoffs, you’re playing such good teams and there are gonna be nights like tonight where it felt like everything we did didn’t go as planned, especially as it did in the second,” Stamkos, who has scored on the man advantage in all four games in the series, told reporters. “At the end of the day, in the playoffs they don’t really ask how, they ask what the series is at. Regardless of how well Washington played, which I think they played really well, we found a way to win two games.”
Brayden Point also scored for the Lightning, his seventh goal and 15th point of the postseason, extending his point streak to three games. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy finished the night with 36 saves, withstanding a barrage from the Capitals en route to his 10th win in the playoffs.
“He’s been so big for us all year,” Killorn said to NBC’s Pierre McGuire about his netminder. “There’s a reason why he got nominated for the Vezina. Tonight, he really saved us, especially in that second period, they were really coming at us. He kept us in it.”
After giving up 10 goals in the opening games of the East Final, Vasilevskiy has played a big role in getting Tampa Bay back into the series, making 74 saves on 78 shots in two wins in D.C. and improving to 5-1 on the road in the 2018 playoffs.
“I think Vasy is a young goalie for this league, but, my gosh, does he seem calm and composed out there,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh told McGuire. “So determined to never give up on the play, just wants to be solid as he can back there and give us a chance to win. It’s fun to play in front of a goalie like that.”
Despite Washington’s frustrations with Vasilevskiy, it did find the net twice on Thursday, opening the scoring on a Dmitry Orlov’s bullet from the wing and then tying the score at two after Evgeny Kuznetsov took a slick pass from Alex Ovechkin and raced up the wing, beating the Lightning goalie five-hole.
For Kuznetsov, it was the seventh straight game with a point, a streak in which he’s tallied five goals and 12 points. While he’s been a boost for the Caps, the return of center Nicklas Backstrom after missing four games with a hand injury was also noteworthy as he tied for the team-high with four shots on goal. At the other end of the ice, Holtby made 16 saves in the loss, which drops Washington to 3-5 at home in the postseason.
The series, in which neither team has been able to win at home, shifts to Tampa for Game 5 with little room for error as a best-of-three.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Vasilevskiy was in the zone on Thursday. Just ask Brett Connolly, who should file a police report after getting robbed on this redirection in the slot.
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL — His second straight 36-save effort drew rave reviews from all his teammates, and for good reason. Saying Vasilevskiy was stellar is an understatement.
2. Steven Stamkos, TBL — A note to the Capitals (mostly Lars Eller): Stop taking penalties. Stamkos will make you pay for it on the score sheet.
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, WSH — The best player for Washington in this series kept on rolling in Game 4, contributing a goal, tying for the team high with 4 SOG and adding in two shot blocks for good measure.
For the first time all postseason, the Winnipeg Jets find themselves having lost two straight games. While it would be understandable to have some panic in a room full of playoff first-timers on the wrong side of a 2-1 series deficit in the Western Conference Final, the Jets' veterans have done a good job of keeping the young team centered. "If you take a loss, you look at what went well and what went bad, then forget about it," center Paul Stastny said. "Tomorrow is a fresh start." Part of that optimism stems from goalie Connor Hellebuyck's consistency: the Vezina finalist hasn't lost more than two in a row all season long, and doesn't plan to change that with a pivotal Game 4 on Friday.
The Golden Knights, on the other hand, get the opportunity to push their foes to the brink and continue their historic first season in front of a raucous Vegas crowd. Marc-Andre Fleury was the backbone of a big Game 3 win, stopping 33 shots to hold off the Jets, while forward Jonathan Marchessault racked up two more goals in Wednesday's 4-2 win. Just two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final, the Golden Knights are playing with some swagger and chip on their shoulders. "I don't think anybody saw us here," Fleury said. "It's been a long season. It's been a lot of fun to be part of it. Really proud to be part of this team and the way these guys have been working. We deserve to be here."