WASHINGTON — As the Washington Capitals worked through their fourth power play against the Lightning during Thursday night’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, Alex Ovechkin swiveled at the top of the zone, appearing ready to drive, dish or shoot at any moment.
The Lightning, meanwhile, didn’t appear ready to counter.
Tyler Johnson had lost his stick during that second-period standoff and was left to challenge the longtime Washington star with just his body as defense.
But Johnson playing shorthanded in equipment, and the Lightning going shorthanded in number, didn’t matter. To complement an offense that continues strong power-play execution — and that scored the winning goal off a sequence set up by a man-advantage — Tampa Bay’s penalty kill shined at Capital One Arena for a 4-2 win to even the series at two games apiece.
"I just latched onto Ovi there," Johnson said. "You’re just trying to eat shots if he’s shooting it … You’ve got to do whatever you can. Luckily for me, the other guys played it really well, so we didn’t really give much up when that happened."
The Capitals didn’t register a shot after Johnson’s stick malfunction, instead settling for a series of passes before Victor Hedman, in the box for tripping, returned to the ice.
Tampa Bay’s man-down defense frustrated the Capitals — and their fans — early in the game, too.
In the last nine minutes of the first period, the Capitals drew three power plays.
During the first for interference on Yanni Gourde, Tampa Bay faced the Capitals’ top power-play unit for the entire two minutes.
About a minute after that denial, referees whistled Hedman for slashing, but the Capitals again couldn’t convert.
And by the time the Lightning stopped the Capitals’ third power play, courtesy of a hooking call on Nikita Kucherov, with a few seconds left in the opening period, boos rang down.
In total, Tampa Bay denied Washington’s nine shots on four power plays. Despite the Capitals holding a 38-20 shooting advantage, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves, including several in the final minutes as the Capitals tried to force overtime.
"(Vasilevskiy) was amazing. The best player on the ice, for sure," Ondrej Palat said. "He’s one of the best in the world, and he shows that every game, and especially tonight."
The Lightning also continued its hot streak on man-advantage looks.
Tampa Bay converted on Steven Stamkos’ look in the first period for a 2-1 lead. And seconds after the Capitals’ Lars Eller, who has five minor penalties in the past two games, skated back onto the ice with eight minutes left in the game, Alex Killorn pushed the puck between goalie Braden Holtby’s legs for the deciding score.
"When the power play is going well like we are," Stamkos said, "the PK wants to step up and be just as good, and vice versa when it’s the other way."