- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2018

TAMPA — Capitals star Alex Ovechkin sarcastically clapped his hands after his pleas went ignored. Despite his objections, the on-ice officials held steady with their call: high-sticking on T.J. Oshie.

The penalty, even in the moment, was questionable. Replays showed Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman taking a puck — not Oshie’s stick — to his face, as both had tried to make a play with it in the air. Still, the whistle blew anyway, and Tampa scored not long after. The swing gave the Lightning a lead, which they kept heading into the first intermission.

But the Capitals’ stayed calm — and the way they responded spoke volumes.

Not only did the Capitals earn a 6-2 victory in Game 2, they sucked the energy out of Amalie Arena for a second straight outing.

There was a stark contrast in how the Capitals responded to two penalties in the first, and the way the Lightning reacted to letting up two goals in less than a minute to end the second.

If you’re wondering how the Capitals are up 2-0 on a heavy favorite, look there first.

“We can only control what we can control … but I thought we responded pretty well,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We refocused and tried to stay on task, and I think we did. We’ve gone through some stuff this year early in the playoffs, and we’ve learned from it.

“We’ve got a real good group right now that understands [to] get back in the moment.”

The Capitals didn’t wait long to bounce back, either. Nearly three minutes into the second period, Alex Chiasson and Devante Smith-Pelly broke free for a 2-on-1, and Smith-Pelly drilled the tying score to make it 2-2.

Ovechkin said they knew there was a lot of time remaining, which helped them keep their composure. 

“We didn’t panic,” Ovechkin said. “We just stayed to the system and played the right way.”

Earlier, the Capitals were also dealt a tough hand when forward Tom Wilson was called for goalie interference at 6:48 into the first. That call was also up for debate, as a slow-motion replay showed Tampa forward Chris Kunitz put his stick around Wilson’s body as they were flying to the net. But that was harder to tell in real-time, and Wilson did interfere with Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Tampa capitalized on the Wilson penalty, tying the game at 1 when Brayden Point scored from the slot.

The Capitals, however, kept plugging away and the game swung on the two-goal stretch in the second. Lars Eller put the Capitals ahead 3-2 and then 59 seconds later, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on the power play.

“That’s a very disciplined team over there, no matter the score, they’re playing the same way,” Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “I don’t think we did that tonight. We’ve defended well this entire playoffs before these last couple of games and that’s why we’ve had success. These past couple of games we haven’t defended with the same sense of urgency and really hanging our goalie out to dry. They had a lot of quality chances. You can’t do that this time of the year.”

Stamkos acknowledged the Lightning haven’t had to deal with this adversity in the playoffs, now down 2-0. Entering the series, the Lightning had lost just one game in each round.

The Capitals, on the other hand, have been pushed during this postseason. They lost their first two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1, and then clawed out of a 2-2 tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Beating the Penguins, too, was a mental hurdle the Capitals needed to finally get over.

“Our team is confident,” Trotz said. “When you’re confident, you’re free. The way we’ve played has freed us up a little bit.”

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