Obviously, the main storyline of this game was the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy. For the second straight game, Vasilevskiy faced 38 shots and made 36 saves. But not all 36-save performances are created equal. In Game Three, he did make a number of important and difficult saves, particularly when the Capitals were surging. But in Game Four, he dealt with a higher volume of Washington Grade-A chances. He was sensational in the contest and the primary reason why the Lightning evened the series.
He wasn't the only reason, however. Yes, the Lightning had a rough second period - and I'll detail how that unfolded in a bit. But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, after surrendering the game's first goal, the Lightning had a strong first period. From Dmitri Orlov's opening goal until the first Lightning penalty at 11:40, the Bolts outshot the Caps, 6-2, and netted two goals. The first came off a turnover by Michal Kempny, which led to a tic-tac-toe passing play. Tyler Johnson intercepted it and quickly fed Yanni Gourde at the right circle. Gourde one-timed a pass to Brayden Point at the left circle and Point whistled the puck into the net. This stretch of time featured crisp Lightning passing and sound puck management. That helped the Bolts control much of the puck possession. It was during this stretch that Nikita Kucherov drew a penalty in the neutral zone. The Lightning cashed in on the power play by executing another quick passing sequence. The puck went from Kucherov to J.T. Miller to Point to Steven Stamkos. Stamkos finished the shot from the left circle to give the Lightning the lead.
Holtby had to make a couple of other tough saves before the Lightning's penalty trouble began. Tampa Bay took three separate penalties in the final 8:20 of the first period. The fact that they killed off all three is a testament to the penalty killers and to Vasilevskiy, who made seven tough saves during the three kills. Ryan Callahan also came up with an important block on an Alex Ovechkin shot during the first kill.
But those consecutive kills, while successful, did disrupt the Lightning's rhythm that had been on display prior to those infractions. And when the second period began, even though they were back to five-on-five play, the Lightning were out of synch. They struggled with turnovers and errant passes. Due to some icing infractions, they endured long shifts in the defensive zone. When they were able to move the puck into the Washington end, they didn't funnel pucks to the net and ended up with repeated one-and-done sequences. Contributing to the Washington momentum surge was the play of the home team. As they did earlier in the series, the Caps attacked relentlessly off the rush and put the Lightning back on their heels. On one such rush, Ovechkin delivered a terrific cross-ice pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished an in-alone chance from the left circle.
Buoyed by that goal and their boisterous crowd, the Caps raised their intensity even more. On the shift after the Kuznetsov goal, Vasilevskiy made a breakaway save on Chandler Stephenson. Shortly thereafter, the Lightning took another penalty, their fourth consecutive infraction. The Caps buzzed in the offensive zone for most of the power
play. But thanks to key blocks from Callahan and Cedric Paquette and two more high quality saves from Vasilevskiy, the Lightning survived the kill.
The Caps posted the first eight shots of the period and the Lightning didn't record their first shot on goal in the frame for more than 10 minutes. In the second half of the period, the Lightning struggled in many of the same areas, had very little puck possession and leaned heavily on Vasilevskiy (he registered six more saves in the final 10 minutes of the period). He denied chances for Tom Wilson, Nicklas Backstrom and one more from Stephenson to keep the game tied. Interestingly, even though the Lightning had a rough second period, they ended up with three glorious scoring chances in those final 10 minutes. Holtby made key saves on a Stamkos tip, a Johnson breakaway and a point-blank look for Kucherov. But those looks were isolated - the Caps dominated play for the vast majority of the second period. Thanks to Vasilevskiy, though, the period ended with the game tied at two.
The Lightning did regroup in the intermission. As the third period progressed, they slowly but surely rediscovered their game. They had a rocky sequence about five minutes into the frame - and Vasilevskiy made a lunging rebound save on Brett Connolly. But shortly thereafter, momentum turned. Thanks to solid puck management, crisp passing and aggressive forechecking, the Lightning put together a string of three or four solid offensive zone shifts. At the end of that sequence, Lars Eller hooked Alex Killorn and the Lightning went on their second power play chance. After Stamkos' first period power play goal, the Lightning were 6-13 in the series on the man advantage, so the Caps knew they needed a strong kill. They got it - the Caps blocked a couple of shot attempts and Holtby made a good save on Kucherov. As Eller left the penalty box, the crowd cheered. But the puck never left the Washington end. Instead, Mikhail Sergachev slid the puck from the left point to Ondrej Palat behind the net. Palat one-timed a backhand pass to Killorn, who was unguarded in front of Holtby. Killorn tucked a backhand shot between Holtby's legs to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead with 8:03 left.
Following Killorn's goal, the Lightning held the Caps to just two shots for the rest of the game. One of those was a terrific chance for John Carlson in the slot with under four minutes left. But the Lightning closed out this game in textbook fashion. They effectively cleared pucks from the d-zone. They disrupted plays in the Caps end. They didn't allow Washington to attack with speed.
After the Caps pulled Holtby for the sixth attacker with about two minutes left, they had a lot of puck possession in the Lightning end. But the Bolts held their defensive structure and the Caps only posted one other shot during that sequence. Eventually, Johnson cleared the zone and Tony Cirelli iced the win with an empty-netter.
As the series shifts back to Tampa for Game Five on Saturday, the Lightning know that if they manage the puck and execute well, they will not be fueling this dangerous Washington attack. Fortunately for them, when they struggled in those areas in Game Four, Vasilevskiy bailed them out.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Killorn's winning goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 36 saves.
2. Brayden Point - Lightning. Goal and assist.
3. Ryan Callahan - Lightning. Key penalty kill blocks.