- In a do-or-die Game 6, the Capitals did, topping the Lightning and sending the Eastern Conference Final the distance.
The Washington Capitals live to fight another day.
On the strength of 24 stops from Braden Holtby and goals by T.J. Oshie and Devante Smith-Pelly, the Capitals took a 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to force Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.
Washington came out fast to open Game 6, hitting anything wearing a blue sweater and peppering Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy with shots. The Russian netminder was up to the task, fighting through screens and traffic, until the Caps finally broke through.
After Tampa Bay defenseman Brayden Coburn was sent to the penalty box for hooking at 13:49, Washington found its groove, ripping off three shots—including John Carlson's bomb from the point that went off the post, causing the Caps' goal light to turn on—before Nicklas Backstrom sent a pass from the boards into the slot, where Oshie snapped it past Vasilevskiy for his first goal of the series and a 1-0 lead.
"He’s such an easy player to have chemistry with," Oshie said of Backstrom to NBC Sports' Pierre McGuire. "He sees the ice so well, he’s always looking to make the pass and he usually can hold on to the puck for long enough for you to get into an open spot."
Smith-Pelly tacked on a little insurance in the third period, sending Chandler Stephenson's no-look pass from behind the net through Vasilevskiy's legs at 10:02, while Oshie capped the scoring with an empty-netter in the game's final minute, finishing off a game in which the victors had little doubt about the outcome.
"I can’t imagine [that] the other guys were wondering if we gonna pull it off tonight," Oshie told McGuire. "We were sure, we were sure that if we came and did what we had to do that it was going to be enough to get the job done."
At the other end of the ice, the Lightning were unable to get much going in the Capitals' zone, and rarely forced Holtby to make big saves in the early stages of Game 6. He was at his best during the third period, fending off Tampa Bay as it took a 5-0 shot advantage in the opening minutes, en route to his first shutout of the 2018 playoffs. Holtby received plenty of help from the stout defensive unit in front of him, which blocked 20 shots and helped limit Bolts' big guns Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos to just one shot on goal apiece on the night.
"We were no good," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "We didn’t play with the near-desperation they did. Was it a fairly even game? There’s no question. What were hits, 39-19? Somebody was engaged, and somebody wasn’t. You can spin this any way you want. You can sit here and say, good for Tampa, they were down 0-2 and they pushed this to Game 7, or you can say they blew a big opportunity to close this series out. In the end, there is a Game 7, it’s at home, and if you said to me you just have to go 2-2 at home in this series and you’re gonna win it, we’ll take it. We took two there on the road, now we have to go home and make sure we take care of business there. Shame on us if we don’t."
With a decisive Game 7 on tap for Wednesday, the series heads back to Tampa, where the Caps won the first two games of the series before falling at Amalie Arena in Game 5. They're 7-2 on the road in the postseason, while the Lightning are 6-3 on home ice.
"They’re a great team," Oshie said. "I imagine they’re going to respond, they’re going to make some adjustments. Game 7 is going to be an all-out war and I don’t think we’d rather have it any other way."
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
The goal-scorer tends to get all the glory, but Chandler Stephenson should get plenty of props for this no-look pass from below the goal line that set up Devante Smith-Pelly’s tally.
1. Braden Holtby, WSH — The Caps' netminder had given up 10 goals in three straight losses, but played a smart, simple game to rebound and earn his first shutout since April 5, 2017, a span of 84 games.
2. T.J. Oshie, WSH — Oshie is no stranger to being clutch. In a must-win game, he came up with two goals, five SOG, a pair of hits and a block.
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL — He was under siege for most of the evening, having to deal with wave after wave of Capitals' shots. Vasilevskiy stopped 31 shots in the loss, but was a big reason things never got out of hand.