My radio partner Phil Esposito has often said that if a team fails to convert on a five-on-three, it is destined to lose the game. (Assuming the five-on-three is of a reasonable length of time). In this contest, the Lightning received a full two-minute five-on-three, didn’t score and yielded the first goal of the game shortly thereafter. At the end of the game, even though I was working alone, I could hear Phil’s voice in my head, repeating his oft-stated five-on-three mantra.
As a whole, the Lightning didn’t play a bad game against the Caps. For the most part, they limited Washington’s scoring chances (something they hadn’t done in either of the first two meetings between the clubs). Their penalty killing was suburb, as they erased four Washington power plays. The Caps power play entered the game with the best percentage in the league, but the Bolts kept them off the board – and even generated some shorthanded looks.
But a loss is a loss – and despite those aforementioned positives, there were reasons, in addition to the failed five-on-three, why the Bolts dropped the first game on this trip. While it’s true that the Lightning defended better than in the first two games against the Caps, twice they surrendered three-on-two rushes that led to goals. Also, for much of the night, the Lightning did not get enough traffic in front of Braden Holtby – or enough pucks to the net.
In the first period, the Lightning were outshot, 12-2, but that disparity didn’t really tell the whole story. At points in the period, the Lightning did have trouble clearing their d-zone, but the extra zone time for the Caps didn’t yield much. The Bolts effectively killed off three Washington power plays in the frame. In all, I can’t recall more than one or two dangerous chances for the home team. At the other end, the Lightning did create some looks, but eight of their shot attempts missed the net. They also failed to convert on a two-on-one shorthanded rush, when Cedric Paquette’s pass skipped over Brian Boyle’s stick. (The first period also featured the controversial disallowed Lightning goal – more on that later on).
For the first half of the second period, the Lightning forechecked the Caps very effectively. They spent most of that time in the offensive zone and were rewarded with three power play chances, including the two-minute five-on-three. The Bolts had four shots during two-man advantage, but Holtby was sharp, especially when he reached behind him with his stick blade to stop a rebound chance for Ryan Callahan. As is often the case, when a team kills off a long five-on-three, they get a big momentum boost. By the end of the five-on-three, the Lightning had outshot the Caps, 10-0, in the period. But on the shift after the kill, Eric Fehr fired a tough shot from the slot and then, the Bolts iced the puck. On the ensuring faceoff, Nicklas Backstrom won the draw and picked up a rebound of a blocked shot. He roofted a backhander into the net for the first goal of the game. The strike buoyed the Caps, who controlled much of the rest of the period. They posted 10 of the final 14 shots in the period and added to their lead when, following a three-on-two rush, Backstrom netted a rebound of his own initial shot. Alex Ovechkin created the goal by poking the puck away from Ben Bishop as Bishop was about to put his glove on it.
Backstrom completed his hat trick early in third, on the shift after a flat and uneventful Lightning power play. The Lightning had most of the puck possession for the remainder of the period, but didn’t solve Holtby until the final 4:24. Tyler Johnson scored off the rush and Matt Carle added another with 2:31 remaining. The Lightning had a couple of good looks to tie it, but Holtby made those saves – through traffic – the Caps iced it with an Fehr empty-netter.
Now to the disallowed goal. It was an important call, because it prevented the Lightning from taking the lead. The game might have unfolded completely differently had the tally been allowed to stand. On the play, Valtteri Filppula took the puck down the left wing and carried it behind the net. Holtby came out of his crease to defend against a potential shot and was out of position when Filppula centered the puck to Steven Stamkos in the slot. The net was empty when Stamkos put it in. As Filppula was making his move behind the net, Ryan Callahan skated to the top of the crease. Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik pushed Callahan into Holtby, who couldn’t get back into the crease to make the save. The officials' ruling was “no goal due to contact on the goalie”. What’s maddening about their decision is that it flies in the face of the ruling (and explanation) from the game between the Bolts and Chicago Blackhawks on November 11. In that game, Brad Richards scored into an open net because a Chicago player made contact with Bishop. The officials in that game ruled that Anton Stralman pushed the Chicago player into Bishop, thereby offsetting the “contact on the goalie” ruling. Yet despite the similar circumstances, the same ruling was not used in this game. I believe the officials in this game got it wrong, but that’s one person’s opinion. I’m sure Holtby, Orpik and the Caps have a different view of it.
For the first time this year, the Lightning begin a road trip with a loss. It creates some urgency to win the next one, which takes place Monday in Pittsburgh.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
The failed five-on-three and ensuing Backstrom goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Nicklas Backstrom – Caps. Natural hat trick.
2.Alex Ovechkin – Caps. Two assists.
3.Matt Carle – Lightning. Goal and assist.