TAMPA, Fla. -- Maybe Guy Boucher was right. Maybe this Eastern Conference Semifinal is a case of David against Goliath.
One problem, though -- he had the roles incorrect. Three games into this best-of-seven series, it's his Tampa Bay Lightning that resemble Goliath.
Trailing 3-2 after two periods, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone scored 24 seconds apart early in third period and hung on for a 4-3 win against the Washington Capitals in Game 3 on Tuesday night in front of 20,613 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Remarkably, the No. 5 Lightning -- winners of six straight -- can sweep this series with another victory in Game 4 on Wednesday.
Not that they’re ready to look ahead.
"We can't let up," Stamkos said. "You see in the Vancouver series (against Chicago) what happens when you do. Games 4 and 5 were blowouts for Chicago and they got the momentum right back in the series and they went to 7. We can't make that mistake."
The top-seeded Capitals must now do what only three other clubs in NHL history have been able to accomplish -- win four straight after losing the first three games of a best-of-seven series.
"They are uncanny when they want to get a goal," Caps forward Mike Knuble said. "It's like they just snap their fingers or hit a button. They just dial it up. You can see it. It's like they flip a switch. When they are down, it's just like they think, 'We know we are going to score.' I don't know what it is … it just leaves you flabbergasted."
After a second period that saw Washington score three times, Stamkos tied the game 5:23 into the third period on an even-strength tally. Stamkos, the No. 1 selection at the 2008 Entry Draft, took a pass from Hedman and fired an absolute laser from the slot past Neuvirth to make it 3-3.
Malone then quickly put the Bolts in front just 24 seconds later. With the Caps still reeling from the game-tying tally, Malone drove to the net and managed to redirect Nate Thompson's backhand feed past Neuvirth as Tampa Bay suddenly had a 4-3 lead.
"That's our team right there. We keep coming at you," Stamkos said. "Obviously, you can never predict scoring that quickly after a goal, but when that one went in, the momentum just shifted. We didn't sit back. We kept pressuring them and we didn't give them much. The last three or four minutes, the guys did a great job of managing the puck and getting it out and winning big draws and blocking shots. It was a great team win."
"That was a rocket," Malone said of Stamkos' sizzler. "I thought he had a couple of good chances and you can see he's really starting to take his game now to that next level. He's getting confident."
Dwayne Roloson finished with 29 saves for Tampa Bay, though the Lightning outshot Washington 15-5 in the decisive third period.
"I think we were waiting for things to happen in the second period and our focus wasn't right," Boucher said. "We just got back and reloaded and came out the way we're supposed to play. We had a lot of enthusiasm and not being scared to lose, but being hungry to win."
It appeared as if Washington had broken the scoreless tie about eight minutes into the game, when Knuble backhanded a shot that trickled past Roloson. But the goal was quickly waved off because the Caps were penalized for having too many men on the ice.
Tampa Bay then grabbed the lead at 11:03 of the first on Sean Bergenheim's fifth goal of the playoffs. After the Caps turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Bergenheim completed a give-and-go with Dominic Moore, as he tapped the latter's feed past Michal Neuvirth to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead. It was Bergenheim's fourth goal in the last five games.
"I thought a couple of those goals he should have had," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said of his goaltender. "At the same time, when they had the lead, he kept us in the game. I think we as a group lost our composure and had giveaways. He was there to keep us involved in the game."
Roloson came up big again for the Lightning in the opening period, as he stopped all 13 shots he faced. His best came with about a minute to go, when he somehow managed to get his left pad on Alexander Semin's snap shot from between the circles. Tampa Bay was outshot 13-8 in the first.
"Again, Rollie kept us in it," Bolts forward Martin St. Louis said of Roloson. "We're happy with the result, but I know there is still room for improvement."
The Capitals evened things when Knuble scored again -- this time, it counted -- 59 seconds into the second period. After Alex Ovechkin blazed past Victor Hedman up the right wing, Knuble collected a loose puck on the doorstep and poked it past Roloson to make it 1-1. It was Knuble's second goal of the playoffs.
Washington grabbed its first lead of the night at 7:58 of the second on John Carlson's first goal of the playoffs. With the teams at even strength, Jason Chimera tried to poke the puck out in front of the net, but it redirected all the way back to the blue line for Carlson, where he ripped a slap shot through a crowd past Roloson to make it 2-1.
"We played the game we wanted to play," Knuble said.
The lead didn't last long, however, as Vincent Lecavalier scored his third goal in two games with 8:09 remaining in the second. St. Louis outworked Scott Hannan for a puck behind the net and then backhanded it towards the goal. Lecavalier was on the doorstep to redirected the feed past Neuvirth for his fifth goal and 11th point in 10 games.
"We need to learn to play a full 60 minutes and not give up odd-man rushes," Caps center Jason Arnott said.
The Caps regained the lead before the end of the second period, as Ovechkin notched his fifth goal of the playoffs during a two-man advantage at 17:27. With both Brett Clark and Adam Hall in the penalty box, Mike Green fired a shot that couldn't get past Roloson. But it slid back into the slot, where Ovechkin roofed a shot over the Bolts' goaltender to give the Caps a 3-2 edge after 40 minutes. It was Ovechkin's fifth goal of the playoffs and Washington's first power-play goal in 15 opportunities in this series.
But it wasn’t enough to get the Caps the win they so desperately needed.
"It is a situation where they have two chances and they score on two chances," Ovechkin said. "Again, I think we dominate them all game -- simple as that. They just score on their chances. They play solid game in defense and Roloson play again great, but it is not over. It is what it is. We're going to fight and we’re going to win."
Caps defenseman Mike Green suffered a lower-body injury at some point during the night and was forced to miss nearly the entire third period. His status for Wednesday is uncertain.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL