Game 3 preview: Lightning face near must-win situation against Capitals
TV: NBC Sports (How to watch live postgame coverage of the series)
TIME: 8 p.m.
WASHINGTON — For a group making their first trip to the Eastern Conference Final, the Washington Capitals look right at home.
Even when they are on the road.
The Capitals come home to Capital One Arena for Game 3 on Tuesday night sporting a 2-0 lead over a Tampa Bay Lightning team that won the most games in the NHL during the regular season.
“I can’t wait to go home and play the game,” Alex Ovechkin told the Washington Post after Game 2. “The fans are going to be all over the place and we’ve waited for this moment for a long time. It’s going to be pretty cool and pretty special.”
The Capitals improved to 7-1 on the road in these playoffs with Sunday’s 6-2 win and the Lightning now must win one of two in Washington to send the series back to Tampa Bay.
Road teams that have taken a 2-0 series lead in the NHL conference finals have an 18-1 series record. The Capitals are 3-3 at home this postseason.
“We’re here for a reason. We believe in ourselves and in this group,” Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman told the team’s website. “We’ve got to go out there and win games on the road, and we’ve done that in the playoffs and we’ve got to do it again.”
Washington has outscored the Lightning 10-4 despite playing without center Nicklas Backstrom (right hand injury). Lars Eller moved up to the second line and scored a goal for the second straight game. He has four points in two games.
“I like the playoffs,” Eller, who has 11 points (five goals, six assists) this postseason, told NHL.com. “I embrace when there’s more on the line and the stakes are higher. I always like that, and I think that it brings out in the best in me, and now with Nick out I’ve just been playing more minutes.”
Washington’s defensive play has limited the Lightning to one even-strength goal in the first two games, and the Capitals have succeeded in generating odd-man rushes when they have the puck.
Eller and Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and two assists in Game 2, and Ovechkin and Tom Wilson each had a goal and an assist. Braden Holtby made 33 saves for Washington and has stopped 52 of 56 shots in two games, winning the goaltending battle with Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Capitals scored twice late in the second period to take a 4-2 lead, including a power-play goal by Kuznetsov with three seconds left, and cruised home.
“If there is one thing I can sit here and say about these two games, it’s we just played tentative and a little bit slow,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told NHL.com. “We didn’t get 113 points by playing that way. We didn’t win the first two rounds by playing that way. These first two games, that’s the way we’ve played.”
One bright note for the Lightning, the last time they lost two straight home playoff games, in the 2015 conference final against the New York Rangers (Games 4 and 6), they won the series in seven games.
“Sometimes, adversity is gut-check time and let’s see who we really are,” Stamkos told NHL.com. “We haven’t had to really deal with that so far in the playoffs. Now we are, so we’ll see what type of team we are.”