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The Tampa Bay Lightning won the first two meetings against the Capitals this season, but Washington won the third round in decisive fashion on Saturday with a 6-3 victory. The Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, and Alex Ovechkin erased any hope of a comeback with his 50th and 51st goals of the season in the third period.
Here are five reasons the Caps won.
One heck of a start
The Caps came out flying in this game and dominated Tampa Bay from the drop of the puck. Washington was better in just about every statistical category after the first 20 minutes, including the scoreboard. Andrei Vasilevskiy was beaten three times on the first 13 shots he faced in the opening frame, including two goals from T.J. Oshie, and that was a deficit they just could not overcome.
The last two meetings were even contests, even if the Caps walked away with losses in each game. Washington played well, but the few mistakes they made Tampa Bay pounced on and put into the back of the Caps' net. Washington's start to this game was close to flawless. They gave the Lightning nothing to work with and set the tone early.
The Ovechkin effect
Alex Ovechkin is the greatest scorer of his generation. One thing that is not talked about as much is how much the threat of Ovechkin affects opposing teams. He is such a dangerous weapon that teams have to account for him at all times.
In the first period, Nicklas Backstrom broke the puck out on an odd-man rush. He was in the middle of the ice and passed right to Tom Wilson. Backstrom continued his route to the net, but defenseman Erik Cernak looked over and saw Ovechkin coming down the left. Instead of stepping up on Backstrom or staying in front of the net, Cernak began drifting to the back door of the net in anticipation of the pass to Ovechkin. Wilson, however, gave the puck back to Backstrom, who shot the goal.
The power play has been struggling of late as teams continue to cheat towards Ovechkin. Ovechkin was fed for a wide-open shot early on the team's first power play and the Lightning covered him a lot closer afterward. Carlson took advantage later in the period, when he got the puck at the point and did not immediately feed it to Ovechkin and instead casually slung it towards the net where Oshie was able to deflect it for his second goal of the period.
Braden Holtby's third period
Through two periods, Holtby had faced only 14 shots. Tampa Bay made a real push at the comeback in the third period, however, which required a number of high-quality saves to make sure the Lightning could never turn this into a game.
Sure, Washington gave him a sizeable lead to work with, but Tampa Bay overcame a 4-2 deficit against the Boston Bruins with three goals in the third period on Tuesday in the last game the Lightning played. If there is one team in the league that a three-goal deficit does not seem overwhelming, it's Tampa Bay.
Ovechkin slammed the door shut on the Lightning's comeback hopes with goal No. 50 of the season. He extended Washington's lead to 5-2 with less than six minutes remaining in the game.
Oshie passed from the wall through a maze of Lightning players and somehow managed to find the stick of Ovechkin, and he did the rest.
It is the eighth time in his career that Ovechkin has reached 50 goals in a season, one of only three players to do so. Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky are the other two, who both reached 50 goals nine times.
As if that wasn't enough, Ovechkin scored No. 51 less than two minutes later for the exclamation point.
The rough stuff
The Lightning have made a point of showing the Caps that they will not be pushed around like they were in last season's Eastern Conference Final. Washington gave as good as they got on Saturday, if not more. Brooks Orpik had enough of Anthony Cirelli, and the two dropped the gloves in the third period. Soon after, Wilson dropped Cernak.
But it wasn't just about the fighting. The Caps play a grind it out cyle in the offensive zone that the Lighting have struggled against going back to last year's series. If you take anything away from the three games between the teams this season, it is that Tampa Bay still does not have an answer for how the Caps offense uses physical play to wear down a defense.
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