- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2018

In the first reasonably close game of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Washington Capitals made one mistake too many.

Alex Killorn scored in the third period to put the Tampa Bay Lightning ahead for good, and the Capitals lost 4-2 in Game 4 at Capital One Arena Thursday.

The Lightning tied the series 2-2 by exploiting Washington errors for two goals in the first period, then dumping in a short third-period goal after a Capitals penalty kill.

Seconds after the Capitals killed off Lars Eller’s second penalty of the night, Ondrej Palat passed from behind the net to Killorn and he shoved the puck through Holtby’s five-hole.

Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored for the Capitals. Braden Holtby saved 16 shots, while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 36 for Tampa Bay.

For Capitals coach Barry Trotz, the game was hardly the “stinker” he said the team put up in Game 3. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 38-20 and won 58 percent of the faceoffs in Thursday’s loss.

“I look at it this way: We’ve played well in three of four games,” Trotz said. “Sometimes the road to wherever you want to get to is not always straight. It’s a little adversity. Pucks weren’t hitting the back of the net for us the way we wanted tonight, but I can’t say we didn’t play well. We played very well in a lot of areas of our game.”

But in a continuation of Tuesday’s struggles, Washington’s power play went 0-for-4, including three lost opportunities in the first period.

“We have pretty good chances. We just don’t execute,” Alex Ovechkin sighed. “I mean, we tried, but we had so much shots and just didn’t score one more goal.”

The road team has won each of the series’ first four games, and for the third straight round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals will head into Game 5 with the series tied.

In the first round, the Capitals won Games 3 and 4 to tie the series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins after that, the two teams split the first two games 1-1 before going 2-2. But this time around, the Capitals enter Game 5 on a two-game skid.

“If before series you said that it’s gonna be 2-2 after four games, then both teams are gonna be happy,” Kuznetsov said. “But you know, we have to win one home game for sure, but we didn’t. But it’s fine, we have to keep moving forward and stay positive.”

The loss also put a damper on the return of center Nicklas Backstrom, who came back from a hand injury to play in his first game since May 5.

For the 12th time in their 16 playoff games, the Capitals opened scoring. Orlov pulled off a memorable dangle and fired a shot that Andrei Vasilevskiy blocked. The goalie also stuffed T.J. Oshie’s attempt at a putback, but Oshie flung the puck back to Orlov at the left circle for another try, and he scored on a slap shot.

“I just have a nice shift in offensive zone,” Orlov said. “I kind of tried to open up and (Oshie) made a nice pass and I just shoot it. I can see open spot for it to go in.”

But Tampa Bay responded just a minute later when Michal Kempny gave away the puck on a wayward pass in the defensive zone. Tyler Johnson picked it up and set up Yannick Gourde to assist Brayden Point’s goal, in a de facto 2-on-1 in front of the net.

Eller was called for holding not long after, his first of two costly penalties. Steven Stamkos scored on a back-door for his fourth power-play goal of the series.

The Capitals came back fierce and opened the second with extended zone time, but that’s not where they scored the equalizer. Five minutes into the period, Alex Ovechkin took a loose puck in the neutral zone and slung a back-handed pass up the ice to Evgeny Kuznetsov at the left boards. The center beat his man and hit Vasilevskiy’s five-hole for the goal.

It was the seventh straight game Kuznetsov recorded a point. He leads all skaters still playing this postseason with 21. Ovechkin’s assist gave him 20 points in one postseason for the second time; he had 21 points in the 2009 playoffs.

In the sixth minute of the third, a Capitals breakaway nearly resulted in the go-ahead goal, with three quick shots all coming close or getting blocked by Vasilevskiy.

Capitals skaters like Tom Wilson credited Vasilevskiy for his big game.

“He didn’t play great in the first two. He played well in the second two, and it’s our job to make him look more like the goalie in the first couple games,” Wilson said. “We’ll keep on the net, we’ll make it hard on him and hopefully it’ll bounce the way we want.”

After those chances, Killorn put Tampa up for good 12 minutes into the final frame, and the Capitals could not get any last-ditch chances to go. Anthony Cirelli scored an empty-net goal with one second left on the clock.

In Jay Beagle’s opinion, the loss was a wasted opportunity, but the Capitals‘ missed shots were not a source of frustration.

“I think the worse thing is when you’re not getting the chances,” Beagle said. “We keep playing the right way and you hope to get the result that you want.”

Eller won nine of 13 faceoffs to lead the Capitals on the dot, and he anchored a continuously impressive second line with Oshie and Jakub Vrana that Trotz kept intact despite Backstrom’s return. But Trotz was vocally upset that Eller took five penalties across Games 3 and 4.

“That was way too many. That’s on Lars and no one else,” Trotz said. “He’s got five penalties right now. He’s been great in the series. He’s played very well. We just gotta get him out of the box.”

The series continues with Game 5 Saturday night in Tampa. Whichever team wins will return to Capital One Arena on Monday with a chance to clinch the series.


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