Andrei Vasilevskiy face the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Washington Capitals beat the Tampa Bay Lightning at their own game to open the Eastern Conference final.
Now Tampa Bay has to find a way to rediscover itself in Sunday's Game 2 to avoid falling into a hole that might be too deep to climb out of in the quest to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four seasons.
Washington, meanwhile, looked like a team in control despite participating in the Eastern Conference final for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era. The Capitals set the tone in the opening game of the best-of-seven series, which they will look to continue Sunday while once again expecting to be withou center Nicklas Backstrom. He has missed the past two games and remains day to day with a hand injury.
"I just think it's been a real good commitment, attention to detail," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "All of those things. Just a team-wide commitment. I think we're playing the full 200 feet that you need to play at playoff time and you're getting the goaltending you need and you're getting the commitment and you're getting the work ethic and you're getting the discipline and detail.
"All of those things combined, you have a chance every night if you do that."
The Capitals, who haven't been to a conference final since winning the Eastern Conference title in 1998, held the Lightning to 10 shots on goal through the first two periods as they controlled the game while building a four-goal lead.
"I think we just realized we just have to play our way," said Ovechkin, who had a goal and an assist in Friday's 4-2 victory. "It doesn't matter which position we are, which round it is and you can see the effort in the guys. Everybody was all in and everybody was paying the price. ... We tried to create a moment on our side and not give them life."
The Capitals took the Lightning out of the game by not allowing Tampa Bay to utilize its speed on the forecheck, an area the Lightning were oftentimes dominant in the first two rounds against New Jersey and Boston. Instead, Washington slowed down the Tampa Bay attack through the neutral zone and when pucks got in deep the Capitals quickly transitioned the play up the ice.
"They turned pucks up quick, put pucks behind us and dictated the way the game was going to be played," Lightning forward Chris Kunitz said. "That's something that we had success doing to other teams. We have to raise our elevation of what we can do out there. But give them a lot of credit, they took Game 1 to us and we have to be better if we are going to be in the series."
Tampa Bay has been in this situation before as recently as the last series, when it dropped Game 1 at home to Boston before winning four consecutive games to capture the series in five games. And since Jon Cooper has served as Lightning coach, Tampa Bay has dropped the first game of a series seven times in 11 tries. The Lightning went on to win four of those series, only losing the 2014 opening round series to Montreal and the 2015 Stanley Cup Final to Chicago.
In addition, the Lightning have won five consecutive Game 2s when losing the opening game.
"There's no situation that we probably haven't been in in the last couple years," Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. "This is one we've been in before, so we just need to play better. There's really nothing that we're going to throw at them that they're going to be surprised about. We just have to play better and we're looking forward to that challenge."