Tampa Bay at Washington
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, District of Columbia
WASH DC – The Tampa Bay Lightning fought their way back in the series with a vastly improved performance and the reward is a chance to even the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night when they visit the Washington Capitals for Game 4. All-Stars Victor Hedman, captain Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov combined for seven points as the Lightning recorded a 4-2 victory Tuesday in Washington after dropping the first two games of the series at home.
“We believed all along,” Stamkos, who has scored a goal in five of the last six games, told reporters. “We knew we weren’t good enough, and credit to them, they played really good hockey the first two games. We needed to make adjustments. We did that. We worked on it. The players went out there and did what we needed to do.” Tampa Bay was much tighter defensively despite allowing 38 shots overall, and scored twice on the power play to improve to 5-for-12 with the man advantage in the series and extend their streak to eight games with at least one. Evgeny Kuznetsov finished with 12 shots on net and a goal for the Capitals in Game 3 while linemate Alex Ovechkin did not have a point despite accumulating nine shots, but coach Barry Trotz told the media his team was “off a little bit” and will be better Thursday. “We believe in each other,” Ovechkin told reporters. “We know exactly what we have to do. Nobody said it was going to be easy. They’re not going to give us two wins in a row in our house. We just have to play more desperate and play smarter.”
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING: Coach Jon Cooper shuffled his top three forward lines for Game 3, putting Ondrej Palat with Kucherov and Stamkos, flipping J.T. Miller to a unit with Anthony Cirelli and Alex KIllorn while moving Yanni Gourde in with Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson. “We needed to put guys in positions to succeed,” Cooper told reporters. “We probably needed to spring a little life into our group.” Point has four goals in his last five games and four of his 14 playoff points in the past two contests while Hedman owns a franchise-record eight-game point streak after scoring once and assisting on two Tuesday.
ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Center Nicklas Backstrom (13 points, 11 playoff games) skated again Wednesday and could possibly return to the lineup Thursday after missing the last four contests with a hand injury. Kuznetsov boasts four goals and seven assists during a six-game point streak and owns 20 points overall – six in the series – while Ovechkin scored twice and set up two others in the first two contests against Tampa Bay. Goalie Braden Holtby owns an .899 save percentage in the series, but has stopped 57 of the 60 shots he has faced at even strength (.950) and leads the league with 10 playoffs wins entering Wednesday.
1. Washington C Lars Eller has posted two goals and three assists in the series, taking Backstrom’s spot on the second line.
2. Stamkos needs one power-play goal to pass Martin St. Louis (10) for first on the franchise’s all-time playoff list.
3. Capitals RW Brett Connolly, who was drafted sixth overall by the Lightning in 2010, boasts a point in each of the first three games of the series.