Capitals 4 Lightning 2
TAMPA, Fla. — The Lightning wanted to play Friday the way they played in the final four games against the Bruins. With intensity. With energy.
“If we do that and we keep playing the right way, we should be fine,” Yanni Gourde said after the morning skate.
But the energy was missing, and so was the intensity.
Credit the Capitals, who dominated the Lightning during the first 40 minutes, then held on for a 4-2 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final to steal home ice during this best-of-seven series.
It was the Capitals’ first appearance in the conference final since 1998, but they — not the Lightning — looked like the team playing in their third conference final in the past four years.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed four goals and was pulled after two periods.
The penalty kill allowed two of those goals.
The Lightning had a potential game-tying goal by Nikita Kucherov with 8 seconds left in the first period waved off because Kucherov was the sixth man on the ice. Alex Ovechkin scored off the ensuing faceoff to give his team a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
The Lightning scored twice in the third, getting a power-play goal by Steven Stamkos and an even-strength goal by Ondrej Palat after an end-to-end rush to make it a two-goal game with 6:57 to play.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said earlier in the week the Lightning cannot make a habit of losing Game 1 of the series. That is what happened against the Bruins, when the Lightning could not match Boston’s intensity in a 6-2 loss.
It happened again in the opener against the Capitals.
There were questions concerning which Capitals team the Lightning would face: one suffering an emotional letdown after finally beating the Penguins to the conference final or one who would use the energy from slaying that playoff dragon to continue its quest for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Cooper said he did not expect the Capitals to suffer a letdown.
They did not.
The Caps took a 1-0 lead 7:28 into the series when Michal Kempny fired a puck from the left faceoff circle through heavy traffic in front of the net and over Vasilevskiy’s left shoulder. It was Kempny’s first goal of the postseason.
The Lightning appeared to have tied the score at 1 with 8 seconds to go in the first when Kucherov came off the bench and was fed the puck at center ice. He raced in on Holtby and pushed the puck past the goalie as he fell to the ice.
The arena was rocking, but not for long.
The Lightning was whistled for too many men on the ice.
To add insult to the no-goal, the Caps scored six seconds later.
T.J. Oshie won the faceoff to the left of Vasilevskiy. Evgeny Kuznetsov got to the puck and fed Ovechkin, who one-timed it into the net.
It was Ovechkin’s ninth goal of the postseason and fourth on the power play.
It was a stunning turn of events. The Lightning went from being tied at the end of one to trailing 2-0.
It was a lackluster first period for the Lightning, which had not played since clinching their semifinal series with Boston on Sunday.
The Caps had more jump in the opening 20 minutes. The Lightning had two shots on goal, with only one in the first 15 minutes.
Steven Stamkos had a chance to at an early goal when he broke in alone on Holtby, but his chance at a quality shot ended when he was hooked by Matt Niskanen. The Lightning had another push with the Tony Cirelli line on the ice, but all it produced was some pushing and shoving after the whistle by Yanni Gourde.
Then, as if things weren’t already going the Caps way, they made it 3-0 less than three minutes into the second when Jay Beagle scored after Brett Connolly fanned on a shot.
It was 4-0 four minutes later, when Lars Eller scored on the power play.