Eventually, the running joke that has stuck to the Capitals through most of their unfortunate postseason existence will wear out. Though they thought this might be the year, there's a considerable amount of doubt creeping in now that the Lightning are square in the Eastern Conference finals.
Washington watched its two-game lead in the best-of-seven series slip away Thursday with a 4-2 loss at Capital One Arena.
For a second straight game, Andrei Vasilevskiy stood on his head, making 36 saves, and the Lightning once again capitalized on their chances, beating Braden Holtby thrice on just 19 shots. Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn had the goals, and Anthony Cirelli added an empty-netter in the game's final second as the road team remained perfect (now 4-0) in this series.
Not even the return of Nicklas Backstrom or a high-energy crowd was enough to help the Capitals keep their edge. And they were the better team wire to wire, this time avoiding penalty trouble (for the most part) and controlling possession. After failing to take a commanding 3-1 series lead, it's going to prove tricky to dodge the familiar feeling of despair as the series shifts back to Tampa, even though this is now a best-of-three sprint to the Stanley Cup Final.
Ten other times in the Capitals' postseason history have they found a way to lose a series in which they held a two-game lead. Historically, that doesn't happen in the conference finals, but maybe that's because the Capitals aren't usually involved. Since 1975, teams with 2-0 leads in a conference finals or semifinals are 39-2.
The Capitals have been perfect 7-0 on the road this postseason, but are now just 3-5 at Capital One Arena.
Washington has never beaten the Bolts at home in their postseason meetings (0-7).
Sporting News provided live updates throughout the game (all times Eastern).
Game 4 result: Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Shots on goal: 36-16, Capitals
10:33 p.m. — GOAL. Alex Killorn pots a backhander from the net front justttt after the power play expires, his fifth goal of the playoffs. What a pass from Ondrej Palat behind the net to set that up. The Lightning take a 3-2 lead with 8:03 remaining. They have just 18 shots on goal.
10:30 p.m. — I jinxed it. Lars Eller heads to the box for hooking and the Lightning get a power play with 10:09 remaining. Their goal in the first period was a thing of beauty. This could be trouble. It's Eller's fifth penalty in two games.
10:29 p.m. — Notably, the Caps have committed just one minor penalty after six in Game 3. It happened all the way back 7:27 into the first period.
10:22 p.m. — I repeat: Andrei Vasilevskiy is the ONLY reason this game is still tied. He stopped back-to-back prime scoring chances from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brett Connolly and has generally been terrific. He's stopped 33 of 35 shots so far, continuing a total transformation from Games 1 and 2.
10:10 p.m. — The third period is under way. Hard to help feeling like these next 20 minutes could decide who ends up winning this series.
Second period: Lightning 2, Capitals 2
Shots on goal: 27-11, Capitals
9:52 p.m. — Two periods in the books. Capitals still 0-fer on the power play, but they gained the edge for 20 minutes and probably would have taken the lead if not for Andrei Vasilelskiy.
9:48 p.m. — HOLT-BY chants rain down after Braden Holtby stones Tyler Johnson. Facing just 11 shots so far, he's not getting a lot of action in net. Caps need him to stay on point, but it looks like he's up to the task ... at least in this period.
Hotlby comes up big against Johnson. pic.twitter.com/qk4K21ySNx— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) May 18, 2018
9:36 p.m. — More than 20 minutes of game time elapsed between shots on goal for the Lightning. Their last shot of the first period came with 11:44 remaining. Their first shot of the second period came at 10:11. The Capitals had 17 shots on goal during that span (but only one goal).
9:25 p.m. — GOAL. Evgeny Kuznetsov ties it 2-all. Streaking down the wing, he beat Andrei Vasilevskiy five hole for his 10th goal of the playoffs. What a breakout pass by Alex Ovechkin.
9:14 p.m. — The second period has begun.
First period: Lightning 2, Capitals 1
Shots on goal: 14-5, Capitals
8:57 p.m. — That's end the first period. Capitals can't convert on any of their three power plays in the final 10 minutes. So far, the difference in this 2-1 game is special teams. Advantage: Tampa.
8:53 p.m. — Make that a third straight power play for the Capitals. Nikita Kucherov hooks Matt Niskanen in the neutral zone with 2:04 remaining in the first period. Tampa is 2 for 2 on the kill. Eventually, Washington needs to capitalize.
8:45 p.m. — Another trip to the power play for the Capitals. Victor Hedman is called for slashing Jakub Vrana at 14:31.
8:39 p.m. — Yanni Gourde called for interfering with Tom Wilson. Caps to the power play at 11:20, their first of the game.
8:34 p.m. — GOAL. What puck movement by that aforementioned lethal Lightning power play. Kucherov-Miller-Kucherov-Miller-Point, and Steven Stamkos finishes it off to give Tampa a 2-1 lead. That's Stamkos' sixth goal in his last seven games. It marks Tampa's ninth straight playoff game with at least one power-play goal (6 for 13 in this series), a franchise record.
More Tic-Tac-Toe passing has the #GoBolts up 2-1!!May 18, 2018
8:32 p.m. — Lars Eller goes to the box for a neutral zone hold and the lethal Tampa power play gets its first look of the night. Eller, one of the Caps' top penalty killers, took three penalties in Game 3, and that was pretty much their undoing.
8:26 p.m. — GOAL. Brayden Point gets it right back. He finishes off a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing sequence with Yanni Gourde, scoring on a helpless Braden Holtby on the back post. We're all tied 1-1 just 5:38 into this one.
8:24 p.m. — GOAL. Dmitry Orlov gets the Caps on the board 4:28 into the game with a canonizing blast that beats Andrei Vasilevskiy, caroming into the net off his left shoulder. That's Orlov's second goal of the playoffs.
8:17 p.m. — Here. We. Go. The puck is down for Game 4.
8:05 p.m. — And here's the Lightning lineup. No changes from Game 3.
Backstrom in… Chiasson out.
Line-ups for Game 4.May 18, 2018
7:46 p.m. — Nicklas Backstrom is back IN the Capitals lineup for Game 4 after missing the last four games. He skated during warmups and took line rushes alongside Chandler Stephenson and Brett Connolly. Alex Chiasson is the odd man out.
Looks like Nicklas Backstrom's back, replacing Alex Chiasson— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) May 17, 2018
Noon — Capitals fans have to wait until warmups to find out whether Nicklas Backstrom will be in Game 4 lineup, coach Barry Trotz said after morning skate. Backstrom participated in practice but Trotz said the center is yet to be cleared by team doctors and is a "game-time decision."
Trotz walks into presser. Says Backstrom is a “game-time decision.” Hasn’t been medically clearly yet. Calls him “day-to-day.”— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 17, 2018
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This news has been published by title DRAFT: Capitals Nicklas Backstrom Not Expected Back For Game 4 Vs. Lightning
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