WASHINGTON -- The Tampa Bay Lightning rose from the depths of the Eastern Conference to be a playoff team under new coach Guy Boucher in part by being patient and letting other teams make mistakes.
The Washington Capitals also changed the way they play, and a more conservative, mistake-free approach gave them confidence they can put past playoff failures behind them.
On Friday night it was the Lightning who stuck to their plan while the Capitals did not, and Tampa Bay stole home-ice advantage in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series because of it.
Steven Stamkos scored the second of two quick goals late in the second period after the Lightning survived a long stretch of dominance by the Capitals to help Tampa Bay to a 4-2 victory in Game 1 at Verizon Center.
"That team we're playing is quite a hockey machine," Boucher said. "At the ice level, I can tell you they're looking outstanding out there. It was surprising that we came in today and win one of the two. I'll be honest, we weren't expecting that."
The Lightning won its fourth game in a row, three of them on the road. Tampa Bay advanced by rallying from a 3-1 series deficit against the Penguins in the opener, capturing the series with a 1-0 win in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
Goalie Dwayne Roloson, one of the heroes of the first-round comeback, survived a bit of a shaky start and finished with 26 saves. The Lightning also were perfect on the penalty kill -- and now the pressure is on Washington to avoid another home defeat in Game 2 on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS).
"I think we just did what we've been doing all playoffs," Stamkos said. "When we get the lead, we obviously want to maintain it and we've been able to do that so far. But they had a lot of good chances and they've got a lot of firepower on that team.
"We had a couple of good bounces tonight, Rollie made some big saves when he had to and it was a good team effort."
After a sluggish start, the Capitals seized control of this contest and the Lightning were happy to be down only a goal as the midway point of the second period passed. Eventually, Washington’s new style of play began to erode and the bad habits of previous years returned.
Steve Downie tried to throw a backhanded pass into the slot from just to the left of the net, but it hit Washington defenseman Scott Hannan’s stick and slid over the goal line at 16:17. It was Downie’s second point of the game and team-leading ninth of the postseason.
"I thought we were in control of the game until the Downie goal, and that gave them life," Boudreau said. "But you can’t play river hockey. This wasn’t the way we play. It was reverting back to an older day."
Added forward Matt Bradley: "We just made some mistakes and we were kind of running-and-gunning too much. That’s not our style. We’re opportunistic. We don’t want to trade chances with teams, especially not a team like that. They started to get some opportunities and a lucky bounce on that one goal and they were right back in it."
Stamkos didn’t score until Game 5 of the first round, but he put the Lightning in front at 19:28 of the second with a power-play goal. Stamkos couldn’t sneak his first shot inside the near post, but he flicked the rebound past goaltender Michal Neuvirth for his third of the playoffs. The goal came on Tampa Bay’s third power play of the period and fourth of the game.
Dominic Moore survived a big hit to poke the puck into an empty net with 40 seconds left in regulation.
Eric Fehr had completed a long stretch of strong play by the Capitals with his first goal of the postseason to put Washington in front at 1:51 of the second period. Jason Chimera got to a loose puck off a faceoff and sent it to Fehr in the slot for a quick one-timer past Roloson.
Sean Bergenheim gave Tampa Bay an early lead by pushing the puck across the goal line during a scrum in front of the Washington net at 2:12. Downie carried the puck from the left corner to the net and Neuvirth was unable to cover it among a cluster of bodies.
It was Bergenheim’s fourth goal of this postseason -- he had 14 in 80 games during the regular season.
The line of Bergenheim, Downie and Moore has been an offensive force for the Lightning in the past four games.
"Every playoffs, if you're going to win it's because guys like that are stepping it up and you never expect those guys to step it up that much," Boucher said. "That's what makes a difference. It's real important that guys like that step it up. Having said that, Bergenheim had like 15 goals this year. He's supposed to be a defensive-minded guy. Moore got 18 goals this year. And then Downie was playing on our first line most of the year. I certainly don't want to bring down their abilities because I think they can bring a lot."
Alexander Semin tied the score on Washington’s first shot of the night at 4:08. Marco Sturm deflected an attempted outlet pass by Tampa Bay defenseman Brett Clark to Semin in the high slot, and the Russian forward snapped a shot that squirted through Roloson for his team-leading fourth goal of the postseason.
Tampa Bay had seven of the first eight shots on net and controlled the play for the first six minutes of the opening period, but Washington had 13 of the final 15 in the period. Roloson struggled a bit with rebounds and playing shots cleanly but kept the score tied at one.
"It was definitely good to get that first game," Tampa Bay captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "It could have went either way tonight. They came out hard. They weren't rusty. ... Overall, obviously we’re happy to come out the way we did."