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Ovechkin dominant force for Capitals in Game 1 win against Lightning

Has goal, assist, three hits, blocked shot in first Eastern Conference Final

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

TAMPA -- Alex Ovechkin waited 13 NHL seasons to get to an Eastern Conference Final. He appears determined to make the most of the opportunity.

Ovechkin had a goal and an assist to help the Washington Capitals defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 in Game 1 at Amalie Arena on Friday.

Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is here on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

 

[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

It was a complete team effort by the Capitals, who are in the conference final for the first time since 1998. They limited the Lightning to 10 shots on goal in building a 4-0 lead through two periods. 

Tampa Bay finished with 21 shots on goaltender Braden Holtby. That the Capitals did this without center Nicklas Backstrom, who missed his second game in a row with a right-hand injury, made it even more impressive.

"I think we just realized we just have to play our way," Ovechkin said. "It doesn't matter which position we are, which round it is and you can see the effort in the guys, starting from [Holtby] and everyone, I think. Everybody was all in and everybody was paying the price."

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm1: Ovechkin capitalizes on Bolts' miscue

Ovechkin, the Capitals captain, was in the middle of everything. He had three shots on goal, three hits and was credited with one of Washington's 19 blocked shots. The 32-year-old forward has a team-high 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had two assists Friday, is next with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists).

For one game at least, Washington's top line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson held serve in the head-to-head matchup with Tampa Bay's checking line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson. 

Palat, Point and Johnson helped hold the Boston Bruins' high-powered top line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand without an even-strength goal in the final three games of their second-round series, which Tampa Bay won in five games. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Wilson helped generate an even-strength goal from defenseman Michal Kempny that gave Washington a 1-0 lead 7:28 into the first period.

Ovechkin stationed himself in front of the net, bringing Lightning defensemen Dan Girardi and Victor Hedman with him, to create a screen that blocked much of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy's view of Kempny's wrist shot from the left point, which sailed over his catching glove. 

Going to the net to create screens and seek deflections and rebounds will be pivotal throughout the series against Vasilevskiy, a Vezina Trophy finalist who was pulled after giving up four goals on 25 shots in the first two periods.

"There's different ways to score and that's one of them," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "I like the fact that we had people looking to get pucks in play and make it hard on their goaltender. It was a real good shot by Kempny. He sort of threw it through there and made it real difficult, and it goes through and it gave us a chance. If there's no one there, I'm pretty sure the goalie makes the save."

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm1: Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Beagle on win

Ovechkin's power-play goal that made it 2-0 with 5.3 seconds left in the first period finished off a dramatic 1.8-second swing that began when the Lightning had a potential tying breakaway goal from Nikita Kucherov with 7.1 seconds left disallowed because they had too many men the ice. 

T.J. Oshie won the ensuing right-circle face-off from Tampa Bay's Anthony Cirelli, and Kuznetsov fed Ovehckin for a one-time blast from the high slot that went in over Vasilevskiy's left pad and under his catching glove for his ninth goal of the playoffs.

"I think it's just effort," Ovechkin said of the goal. "We tried to play until the end and the situation is to win the face-off and we make the right decisions, we make the right play."

Much was made of whether Washington would have an emotional letdown after finally getting past the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round to reach the conference final for the first time in 20 years. The Penguins eliminated the Capitals in the second round each of the past two seasons and had defeated them in nine of their previous 10 playoff meetings. 

So Kuznetsov's series-clinching overtime goal in a 2-1 win in Game 6 on Monday marked a significant breakthrough. The Capitals were able to build off that high with a fast start against the Lightning, and they hope it carries into Game 2.

"This group is having fun," Trotz said. "They're calm. They've got a really good work ethic. And really, we're just trying to earn the right to keep playing and nothing more. When you have a real good group that likes to be around each other and have these moments and play in the playoffs, you don't want those to go away."

 

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