Washington outscored Tampa, 7-1, at even strength in the first two games, so the Lightning must play like they did in Game 3 to have a good chance the rest of the way. Nikita Kucherov blasted the puck past Capitals goalie Braden Holtby at 1:50 of the second period, reversing a trend of poor starts from the previous two games. With Stamkos' ability to score at will (27 goals and 86 points this season), he is one of two key playmakers for Tampa Bay in game two. They combined for three goals and four assists. If Tampa wins, we've got ourselves a dandy of a series.
With the Washington Capitals leading the series 2-1, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in a do-or-die game. "Was that the recipe?" "We just play our game". That was the recipe. They have guys who can shoot and make plays. The Capitals got one goal back on a Brett Connolly tally midway through the second, but a Brayden Point goal with 3:57 left in the period pushed it back to a three-goal advantage. Holtby has 44 wins, 24 losses, and five overtime losses to his credit and has registered a pedestrian 2.82 goals against average and a subpar.910 save percentage this season.
Now it's Washington's turn to respond.
Head coach Barry Trotz would share his thoughts on the Lightning's win, as well as what went wrong for Washington.
To illustrate how infrequent this is, I graphed out the distribution of Tampa Bay's performance by those same scoring chance and shot attempt numbers over three-game segments in the last three years.
"Of course, you feel it a little bit when your ownership - management - goes out and makes some big trades", Stamkos said. He's always there for us, and we did a good job for him tonight.
Backstrom has missed Washingtons past four games with a right hand injury. Neither team skated on Wednesday.
"When he shoots it like that - he's done it for so long and scored so many goals from there - I think it is hard to cover him", Tampa forward J.T. Miller said of Stamkos. Pointer getting that fourth one kind of popped the balloon. "Obviously to get him back would be huge". Will that change tonight in Game 4 as Washington is the small home favorite?
We're dealing with small samples here, but the reality is a playoff series is, at most, seven games and you just can't play poorly for very long.
And as they have in other critical junctures of this postseason, the Lightning relied on their best players to rise to the occasion and rescue a series that had been firmly in their opponents' grasp.