With time winding down, chants of ”sweep, sweep, sweep” reverberated through the building, and the Tampa Bay Lightning kept pushing the Washington Capitals — all the way out of the NHL playoffs.
Sean Bergenheim scored two goals and Dwayne Roloson stopped 33 shots, helping the streaking Lightning complete a series sweep of the top-seeded Capitals with a 5-3 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Playing on consecutive nights for the first time this postseason, the fifth-seeded Lightning extended their winning streak to seven games to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since their 2004 Stanley Cup season.
”We’re definitely happy, but we’re not popping champagne or anything,” Lightning forward Ryan Malone said. ”We know what our goal is, and we have to keep going and stay even keel. We haven’t done anything yet.”
For Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, it was yet another bitter postseason disappointment.
Rookie Michal Neuvirth stopped 32 shots for Washington, but Bergenheim scored twice in eight minutes during the second period to build a 3-1 lead that sent the sellout crowd of 20,835 into celebratory mode long before it was over.
”It just seemed like they had an answer for everything that we threw at them,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. ”That’s kind of the tough part. We didn’t get rewarded for everything that we threw at them.”
The Lightning’s big three of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos have elevated their games, but so has Bergenheim, who has a team-leading seven goals through two rounds. St. Louis’ sixth goal of the playoffs, with 3:08 remaining, finished Tampa Bay’s scoring.
Ryan Malone and Marc-Andre Bergeron added goals for the Lightning, who haven’t lost since dropping into a 3-1 hole against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
Bergenheim was eighth on the Lightning with 14 regular-season goals, however he’s been much more of an offensive force in ousting the Penguins and Lightning.
It’s something coach Guy Boucher, who has Tampa Bay in the conference finals in his first season as an NHL coach, has come to expect of the forward.
”Every top game, every important game, every game that there is some pressure, he was in it. He was one of our better players,” Boucher said. ”Some people freeze under pressure, some people fly away, and some people fight. He fights.”
Marco Sturm, John Erskine and John Carlson scored for the Capitals. Ovechkin had an assist on Sturm’s goal, but couldn’t find the net with any of five shots at Roloson, the 41-year-old midseason acquisition who’s been a key factor in Tampa Bay’s surprising success against Pittsburgh and Washington.
”He was outstanding,” Ovechkin said.
The Lightning won the first two games in Washington, then pushed the Capitals to the brink of elimination by winning Game 3 in Tampa on Tuesday night.
They were expecting the toughest game of the series Wednesday, calling the Capitals a proud team that wouldn’t be taken lightly. Washington felt the first three games could have gone either way, with Ovechkin insisting after Game 3 the series was far from over and that he expected his team to come back and win.
”We were hungry and we wanted to win,” Ovechkin said. ”We wanted to win. They wanted to win. Somebody had to lose. I don’t know what to say right now.”
Malone scored with Ovechkin in the penalty box for charging, giving Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead at 12:37 of the first period. The Lightning haven’t lost a game in the playoffs in which they’ve scored first. However, Washington proved again to be resilient after falling behind early.
The Capitals tied it late in the first, scoring for only the second time in 17 power-play opportunities in the series. Jason Arnott and Ovechkin assisted on Sturm’s goal, but Washington couldn’t build on the momentum during a second period in which it was outshot 17-10.
Bergenheim’s sixth and seventh goals of the playoffs put the Lightning up 3-1. The Caps tightened it with Erskine’s unassisted goal at 13:40 of the second, but Roloson answered every challenge after that.
”It’s very frustrating. I don’t think any of us saw this coming down, happening like it did. Probably the last thing that was in our mind, but you have to give them credit,” Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. ”They played well, and they held their own when they had to. And really, when they got their chances, they capitalized. It was pretty amazing how well they could do it.”
NOTES: The Lightning have won eight consecutive postseason games against the Capitals, dating to the first round in 2003. … Washington D Mike Green, who left during the third period Tuesday night with what the Capitals described as a lower body injury, didn’t play in Game 4. … Tampa Bay LW Simon Gagne and D Pavel Kubina sat out for the third consecutive game because of undisclosed upper body injuries. They are day to day. … St. Louis, Lecavalier and Kubina are the only players remaining on the Lightning roster from the Stanley Cup championship team.