Photo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals headed into Friday night’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a sky-high confidence and swagger after having knocked off the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Penguins four nights ago. Yet another tough opponent awaited them, a Tampa Bay Lightning team that finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference, who had lost just two playoff games so far this spring.
Not many of the NHL experts are predicting the Caps to win this series. In fact, on NHL.com all but two writers picked the Lightning.
The Caps came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, which led to an early goal by Michal Kempny.
As the opening period was coming to a close, Matt Niskanen was whistled for holding Steven Stamkos at the 2:26 mark, which gave the Bolts a golden opportunity to knot the score. The Capitals killed off the penalty.
As Niskanen came out of the box and got the puck, he missed the puck as he fired the shot and Ryan McDonagh pounced on it. He flung a pass ahead to Nikita Kucherov who fended off Dmitry Orlov and beat Braden Holtby to tie the game. Or so they thought.
The official called it back for too many men on the ice. If someone left the ice just a tad bit sooner, this goal might’ve made Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays.
Huge momentum shift at the end of the 1st!
This Kucherov goal waved off for too many men & the Caps respond with a goal of their own. pic.twitter.com/2K7oKkzIIL
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 12, 2018
“Obviously a turning point in the game. Great call. I don’t think any of us saw it (too many men), it was pretty clear on the replay,” said Holtby.
“It’s one of those things where we would’ve been comfortable even if he scored. I think we would’ve kept pushing harder but in my mind that’s still a goal I gave up and one I want to look at and see what I can do better on.”
The Caps were granted a power play after that call with 7.1 seconds left in the period. With the face-off coming on the right side, T.J. Oshie won the battle, Evgeny Kuznetsov fed Alex Ovechkin to do what he does best. Ovechkin blasted the one-timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy and just like that the Caps headed to the dressing room with a commanding 2-0 lead.
The Capitals outshot the Lightning 9-2 in the opening stanza.
“We got off to a good start… I think in the first period we had a very good chance of scoring more than two goals,” said Ovechkin.
The strong first period carried over into the second as the Caps added goals from Jay Beagle and Lars Eller to put the road team ahead 4-0. The Lightning struck twice in the third but the Caps hung on for the 4-2 win to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Capitals are now an impressive 6-1 on the road in the playoffs and look to carry that momentum into Sunday night’s Game 2.
By Michael Marzzacco