WASHINGTON — T.J. Oshie and Devante Smith-Pelly scored, Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced and the Washington Capitals beat up the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 Monday night to even the Eastern Conference final and force a deciding Game 7.
Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik led the charge, throwing their bodies around all night in Game 6. Tampa Bay got 31 saves from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in another impressive showing but had no answer for Washington’s hit-everything-that-moves approach facing elimination at home.
Game 7 is Wednesday night at Tampa Bay. The winner faces the Vegas Golden Knights, who are in the Stanley Cup Final in their first season.
The Capitals outhit the Lightning 39-19 and outshot them 34-24, bruising and battering them all over the ice. Orpik separated Cedric Paquette from the puck twice on one shift, Ovechkin leveled rookie Yanni Gourde and Wilson was his usual self, dishing out a handful of crushing body checks.
With a physical tone set, the Capitals kept testing Vasilevskiy and eventually cracked him. There wasn’t much he could do on Oshie’s second-period power-play goal from the slot after a deft pass from Nicklas Backstrom gave Vasilevskiy little time to adjust for the one-timer.
Drawing a penalty made all the difference for Washington, which hadn’t had a power play since the second period of Game 4. Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn hooked Smith-Pelly to give the Capitals that opportunity, and their penalty kill kept Tampa Bay’s potent power play off the board for just the second time in the series.
With the Lightning pressing and Holtby shining under pressure, the Capitals had chances to go the other way. Smith-Pelly scored Washington’s second goal midway through the third, beating Vasilevskiy after fellow fourth-liners Chandler Stephenson and Jay Beagle did the work on the forecheck to set it up.
As strong as Vasilevskiy was, the physical game took a toll on the Lightning, who weren’t able to muster a comeback. Oshie iced it with an empty-netter in the final minute.
The Lightning missed a chance to close out an opponent for the first time in these playoffs. They eliminated New Jersey and Boston in five games apiece but are now on the brink themselves.
The Capitals improved to 10-2 in the Ovechkin/Backstrom era when facing elimination any time before Game 7. They’re 3-7 in Game 7 over that time.
NOTES: Washington improved to 4-5 at home in the playoffs. The Lightning dropped to 5-2 on the road. ... An assist on Oshie’s goal extended Capitals C Evgeny Kuznetsov’s point streak to nine games, tied with Backstrom in 2009 for the longest in franchise playoff history. ... F Andre Burakovsky returned to the Capitals lineup after being a healthy scratch for Game 5. Burakovsky replaced Alex Chiasson.