The Tampa Bay Lightning evened the 2018 Eastern Conference final with a 4-2 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 4 on Thursday night.
Remarkably, all four games this series have now been taken by the road team.
This was the latest showdown between the highest-scoring team in the regular season (Tampa Bay) and the top offense in the postseason (Washington). It lived up to the billing early on.
Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov opened up the scoring just less than five minutes into the game, beating Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy with an absolute laser from a sharp angle:
It wouldn't take long, however, for the Lightning to silence the crowd by evening the score:
Three minutes later, captain Steven Stamkos gave Tampa Bay its first lead of the game by beating Washington netminder Braden Holtby with a record-setting goal:
Stamkos now has a goal in all four games this series.
Vasilevskiy was tested early and often in this one, as the Capitals peppered the net with shots. But fortunately the Lightning, the 23-year-old was up to the task early on, coming up with 14 saves in the opening 20 minutes to give his team a one-goal lead heading into the intermission.
Washington kept the pressure on the Tampa Bay net, though, coming out of the locker room. Eventually, one got by Vasilevskiy, as Evgeny Kuznetsov snuck one through the five-hole following a great pass from Alexander Ovechkin:
Kuznetsov made some history of his own with that point, per NHL Public Relations:
Evgeny Kuznetsov (10-11—21) matched the @Capitals franchise record for points in a single postseason, established by Alex Ovechkin in 2009 (11-10—21 in 14 GP). #NHLStats #TBLvsWSH #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/RhZgdBNap4— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 18, 2018
Fans watching were probably stunned that the Lightning were even in the game at that point. It wasn't until the midway point of the second that they recorded their first shot on goal of the period, snapping a 20-plus-minute drought without one. Surprisingly, they held a lead for the majority of that span.
That's how well Vasilevskiy was playing:
Washington held a 29-13 advantage in shots through the first 40 minutes—and it was more of the same in the third.
The Capitals once again came out of the locker room in attack mode. Still, the man known as Vasy was on top of his game:
Tampa Bay finally turned the tables midway through the period. Holtby withstood extended pressure, turning aside a number of good looks and helping kill a penalty. But with just more than eight minutes to play, Alex Killorn was able to sneak one through Holtby's legs to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead:
It's not about the quantity of shots—it's about the quality. Tampa Bay may have been outshot, but it found a way to make the most of its scoring chances.
Washington had a number of looks after pulling Holtby with about two minutes to play, but a combination of unlucky bounces and clutch saves by Vasilevskiy denied the Capitals the equalizer. Anthony Cirelli was able to officially ice the game with an empty-netter with two seconds to play.
that stick has a family pic.twitter.com/yXm7YWgwoq— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 18, 2018
The Lightning now head home with all of the momentum. Vasilevskiy allowed 10 goals during the first two games and even had to be yanked at one point. Playing in a ruckus road environment proved to be the cure for his struggles as he denied 72 of 76 shots in the nation's capital.
Now, the Capitals will have to try to figure out how to bounce back as the series shifts back to Florida. The lethal power play unit failed to score in seven opportunities at home, including 0-for-4 in Game 4. That unit was a game-changer early on this postseason, especially during the opening round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Without any production from it the last two games, Washington was not able to pull out a victory.
The puck drops for Game 5 at 7:15 p.m. ET on Saturday.