For a few fleeting moments, at least, the Washington Capitals had us believing it was finally their year.
They came back to win four straight and beat Columbus in the first round despite losing their first two games on home ice. Then, after two straight postseason disappointments at the hands of Sidney Crosby and Co., the Caps slayed their playoff demons and finally knocked off the Penguins to reach their first Eastern Conference final in 20 years.
Washington then stormed into Tampa Bay’s barn and stole the first two games of the Eastern Conference final, setting up an opportunity to close out the series in a hurry as they headed to the cozy confines of D.C. for Games 3 and 4.
But, as playoff fortunes often go, things turned around in a hurry for the Capitals, and they’ve got no one but Andrei Vasilevskiy to blame. Tampa’s goaltender quickly stepped up and thwarted not only Washington’s chances to make quick work of this series, but single handedly pushed the Caps to the brink with three straight games of lights-out hockey.
#TBLightning Andrei Vasilevskiy has stopped 100 of last 106 shots he faced in three straight wins.
— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) May 20, 2018
After a pair of shaky starts to open up the Eastern Conference final — including those first two losses in Tampa where he posted a measly .839 save percentage — Vasilevskiy rebounded in a big way. The 23-year-old lead the Bolts to three straight W’s while allowing just six goals and recording a .943 save percentage as Tampa was outshot and out-chanced in each contest.
The Capitals got off the a slow start in Game 5 — they put up just four shots on goal in the first period — but Washington came charging hard in the final 40 minutes, outshooting the Lightning 26-9 over the final two periods and out-chancing Tampa by a whopping 17-3 margin in the third frame alone. But as he’s been all throughout his Vezina-worthy season, Vasilevskiy was a stone-cold killer.
Big last second save by Vasilevskiy to clinch the win. pic.twitter.com/mTmru8QQRr
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) May 20, 2018
When the buzzer sounded on Game 5, the Caps held the edge in shots (30-22), scoring chances (29-25), and slot shots (17-13), but they had one too few on the scoreboard. Unfortunately for Washington, it was an all too familiar story — a strikingly similar scene to the one they saw in the previous two contests.
Game 4 brought an absolutely dominating performance from the Caps, as they drilled 38 shots on the Lightning netminder (including a 29-13 shot advantage over the first two periods) but could only find the back of the net twice despite dominating the Lightning in offensive zone time and scoring chances.
With the Capitals holding the hot hand and Tampa’s backs completely against the wall, donw 2-0 heading to Washington, Vasilevskiy came up with his biggest performance of the season in Game 3. The Caps outshot the Bolts 16-9 from the slot (8-1 in the final frame alone) and outplayed and out-chanced Tampa once again — but you know how that story ends.
Washington has done all it can in its attempt to build off their curse-breaking momentum after finally getting by the Penguins and looking almost unbeatable through Games 1 and 2 of this series. Hell, they even looked unbeatable, for the most part, in the last three contests.
But as is often the case in the playoffs, a hot goaltender can steal a series, and the Caps look like they may have run into a wall in Vasilevskiy. There may not be much more to it than that.
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