- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2018

TAMPA — The Capitals could have blamed a lousy call from the referees, or even used Nicklas Backstrom’s hand injury as an excuse. On Sunday, there were plenty of moments when it might have been understandable if Washington had allowed the Tampa Bay Lightning back into the series.

But these Capitals didn’t let up. They didn’t relax. And now, with a 6-2 win in Game 2, they return to the District with a commanding 2-0 series lead — halfway to moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

 Sunday’s contest turned late in the second period when Lars Eller scored from the slot to put the Capitals up 3-2.

Seconds later, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was called for tripping forward Andre Burakovsky, and — like Alex Ovechkin’s one-timer in Game 1 — the Capitals took advantage of a penalty with time winding down. This time it was center Evgeny Kuznetsov who fired a shot at the net that deflected off Vasilevskiy and slipped under the goalie and into the net.

Suddenly down 4-2, the stunned Lightning never recovered.

Dominating the Lightning again on their own ice, the Capitals are now an incredible 7-1 on the road this postseason.

“In the past, at times, we were thinking we could get away with things at home because we were always confident we could score four or five, or however much we needed,” Eller said. “When you’re on the road, you have a little less cheat in your game and really focus on being disciplined.

“We’ve done exactly that in our series we’ve played this year.” 

In the third, Ovechkin and Brett Connolly added insurance goals to make it a decisive victory, and the Florida hockey fans started filing out en masse with seven minutes left.

Entering the night, the Capitals expected more fire from the home team after Washington came into their building on Friday and stole Game 1. For the first period, they got exactly that.

The Capitals were down 2-1 after the first, in part because of a questionable high-sticking penalty called on forward T.J. Oshie nearly nine minutes through the period. 

Oshie raised his stick, trying to play a loose puck in the air, but the puck hit Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman in the face. The whistle was blown, with the referees motioning that it was Oshie’s stick that hit Hedman, not the puck. An angry Ovechkin sarcastically clapped his hands in response.

Tampa soon converted on the power play as center Steven Stamkos fired a one-timer that sailed in the net, giving the Lightning the lead. 

Stamkos’ score was Tampa’s second power-play goal of the night. Capitals forward Tom Wilson took a goaltender interference penalty at 6:28 in the first, and Brayden Point converted a wide-open look from the slot.

The call on Wilson erased the good fortune the Capitals had created to start the game. 

Just 28 seconds in, Washington scored when Wilson deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen, which went past Vasilevskiy.

The Capitals tied the game three minutes into the second, when forward Alex Chiasson found a streaking Devante-Smith Pelly, who scored.

“You see the commitment and it’s sort of contagious,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought tonight we had a lot of that. That was one of the reasons we were able to stay on task tonight.”

The Capitals were significant underdogs to start this series, but are now in firm control. They’ve had players like Eller rise to the occasion with Backstrom out. The defensive effort has remained consistent.

Near the end of the game, Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov tripped Connolly as both were skating off the ice. It was a sign, perhaps, that frustration for the Lightning is starting to set in — and there are now two games in the District ahead of them.

Game 3 is Tuesday at Capital One Arena at 8 p.m.

“I can’t wait to go home and play the game,” Ovechkin said. “The fans are going to be all over the place. We’re waiting for this moment a long time. It’s going to be pretty cool, pretty special.”  



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