After a disastrous first 2 games in the series, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally took the lead in the Eastern Conference Finals Saturday night. Behind another stellar performance from Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning held on for a 3-2 win, and now lead the best of seven series.
Lightning Off To A Flyer
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wanted his team to get off to a fast start. So he matched up his high energy fourth line against the Capitals top line to start the game. It could’ve been a risk. But Paquette, Kunitz, and Callahan made him look like a genius. After losing the opening faceoff, the Lightning harassed the Caps straight away. Sticks on the ice, poke checks and physicality resulting in the puck reaching Paquette in the low slot. Paquette didn’t need any help after that, calmly slotting past the glove of Braden Holtby.
After just 19 seconds the tone was set. The second-fastest goal in lightning playoff history lifted the roof off the Amalie Arena. Ondrej Palat added a second at 9:04, as Holtby continued to struggle in the series. Having given up 7 goals in 38 total shots in games 3 and 4, Holtby started game five allowing 2 goals in the first 6 shots.
As bad as Holtby has been Vasilevskiy has been outstanding. For the third straight game the Capitals had way more shots than the Lightning, and for the third straight game, the Lightning goalie turned them away. After registering back to back 36 save games, Vasilevskiy posted a .933 save percentage in game 5.
Cooper went to the same line to start the second period and got much the same result. Ryan Callahan this time firing home after just 33 seconds. At 3-0 in just 14 shots, the Lightning looked unstoppable. The physicality and sheer speed of the Lightning had the Capitals reeling, and unsure of what to do with the puck.
What Next For The Capitals
The Capitals finally got on the board in the second. But 3-1 down by that point it seemed improbable that they could beat Vasilevskiy another 3 times on the night. Ovechkin added a second late in the third after the Capitals pulled their goalie. But despite a barrage of shots late on, it never really looked like being their night.
They aren’t creating enough high scoring chances to trouble the Lightning, and Holtby is struggling to stop anything. The Capitals seemed slow, and ponderous for much of the game as the Lightning buzzed around them. Whether the extra 2 games is taking its toll is hard to say, but the Caps looked a beaten team Saturday night in Tampa.
Braden Holtby looked a shadow of himself again in game 5. Questions must be asked whether he will even start game 6. While clearly the number one goalie for the Capitals, the first goal summed up his struggles at the moment. With the shot coming glove side he has to make the save. His team needs him to step up, or game 6 will be the end of their season.
Game 6 comes up in 2 days in Washington, and the Capitals will need to impose themselves on the game early if they are to have any chance.