TAMPA -- The building erupted in cheers. The Tampa Bay Lightning players on the ice did not, their reaction muted because, well, they knew there was no reason for a reaction.
With 7.1 seconds remaining in the first period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals on Friday, Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov had made an incredible effort to maintain possession of the puck while being tracked by Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov, even as he left his feet, even as he managed to get the puck to the back of the net.
The Lightning knew there was a problem. They knew they had an extra skater on the ice, knew the goal was going to be waved off, that they were going to be assessed a penalty.
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They couldn't know what would happen next.
With only those seven ticks left on the clock, the Capitals set up for an offensive zone face-off in the right circle, with T.J. Oshie lined up against the Lightning's Anthony Cirelli. Oshie won the puck back to Evgeny Kutznetsov, who passed it to Alex Ovechkin for the one-timer.
He scored, with 5.3 seconds remaining in the first.
In 1.8 seconds, it went from the brief appearance of a tied game to a two-goal lead for the Capitals. And the Lightning would never recover, losing 4-2 at Amalie Arena.
"It was quick," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "It was unusual, no question, but it was a big moment for us. You talk about those windows of opportunity that you have a chance in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs to jump through, and we did that."
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm1: Ovechkin capitalizes on Bolts' miscue
The Lightning headed into their dressing room having known what was coming after the face-off, having understood the play the Capitals were going to run, but not being able to do a thing about it. They were down 2-0, and they had an intermission to think about what could have been.
"Any time you give up a goal at the end of the period, it gives momentum to the other team," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "That's just execution. Right off the draw, we know what they're going to do, they're trying to get it to Ovechkin for a shot. We were just a step behind on our reads today."
Alex Killorn tried to get in front of the shot, in front of Ovechkin, but the Lightning forward couldn't quite get there. He saw the puck slide, made his move. It was too late.
"It's a play that we scouted," Killorn said. "We know that it's a play that they do. It just happened so quickly that it's tough to get body position, especially when [Lars] Eller is trying to set a pick there. It's just one of those things where I probably have to jump out quicker on him."
And before he -- and the Lightning -- knew it, the puck had sailed past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm1: Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Beagle on win
Even the Capitals had doubted their ability to do much of anything with 7.1 seconds left. That's barely time to get a shot off after a face-off, barely time to execute a play, even something they have been over and over and over. And yet, it was more than enough time.
"It's big," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "Me and [Oshie] were actually talking about whether we should ask the refs to check the time, bug them about maybe adding a second or two on to give ourselves 10 or 11 or 12 seconds. … That was a big momentum shift. The crowd was kind of stunned a little bit."
They were stunned even more when the Capitals came out in the second period and scored at 2:40 and then again at 6:42. Washington built a 4-0 lead, as Tampa Bay stumbled and looked slow, barely able to get shots off, with two in the first and eight in the second.
The Capitals believed the swing had affected the Lightning, even if the Lightning never really believed that the Kucherov goal would count. The Lightning believed they would be heading into the dressing room down by a single goal, not the two-goal margin that made their hill so much higher.
"It can be deflating to the team that gets scored on [because] you have to come in here and watch the clock for 15 minutes and think about that goal that just went in that you wish you would've prevented," Oshie said.
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm1: Trotz on quick start, Game 1 win
They had to sit there, knowing what had just happened, knowing it was an opportunity lost for them, an opportunity gained for the Capitals, knowing that the swing might have been the difference in the game, perhaps even the series.
It was big. It was stunning. It was a moment that could have passed by silently, the seconds running out and the game where it had been before everything started. Except, it wasn't. It was the moment that showed just how ready these Capitals are.
"That was a window for us," Trotz said. "That was a window of opportunity for us and we were able to do something with it. In the playoffs, a lot of times you may get only one or two a game, and that was one of those windows that we were able to execute on and take advantage of."
It was a window of 1.8 seconds. It was enough.
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