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Lightning-Capitals: Lightning keeps Alex Ovechkin under control

Alex Ovechkin falls away from Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy during the second period of the Lightning's Game 5 win in  the Eastern Conference Final.  (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
Alex Ovechkin falls away from Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy during the second period of the Lightning's Game 5 win in the Eastern Conference Final. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
Published May 20, 2018

TAMPA — Alex Ovechkin headed toward the Capitals' locker room two hours before the start of Saturday's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final with the swagger of an elite athlete that suggested he was about take over a game and make life miserable for the Lightning.

And he did, too,

The problem for the Capitals was he did it far too late in the night to make the game nothing more than close and a bit interesting in the moments leading up to the final horn.

Ovechkin pinged a puck off the crossbar with 7 minutes to play in the third period, scored with 1:36 left to make it a one-goal game and had another shot attempt blocked by Dan Girardi with 19 seconds to play in the Lightning's 3-2 victory.

The Lightning is one win from heading to the Stanley Cup final as it heads into Monday night's Game 6 at Capital One Arena in Washington because it has stopped Ovechkin from being Ovechkin during its three-game winning streak in the series.

"That's a commitment to playing defense all over the ice," defenseman Anton Stralman said.

It was Cedric Paquette, Chris Kunitz and Ryan Callahan — three grinders who play forward — and Stralman and Ryan McDonagh — a pair of playoff-tested, do-whatever-it-takes defensemen — who were assigned Saturday to shut down Ovechkin's line.

But stopping him was also a commitment of any other Lightning who found himself on the ice at the same time as No. 8.

It not only meant limiting the time and space with which Ovechkin could work when he had the puck, but limiting Ovechkin's touches by preventing his linemates from getting him the puck.

Oh, they had to stay out of the penalty box. Ovechkin does some of his best work with the man advantage.

The Lightning was not called for a single penalty Saturday.

Ovechkin came to life in the final 2:14 of the game after the Capitals pulled goalie Braden Holtby and skated with a 6-on-5 advantage. Ovechkin was on the ice the entire time.

He did not get his first shot on net until less than four minutes were left in the game.

"That's news to me," Stralman said. "I didn't know that."

RELATED: Grading the Lightning's Game 5 victory.

Ovechkin had three shots on goal, had three blocked and missed the net with a seventh.

He had only one shot attempt through the first two periods.

"I tried to play a different way," Ovechkin said after the game. "I tried to use my body, tried to get a hit."

That Ovechkin felt the need to play a different way might have been the Lightning's biggest win Saturday.

He had two goals and a pair of assists during the first two games of the series as the Capitals built a 2-0 lead.

"He's one of the best players in the world for a reason," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "He can shoot the puck. He can score."

In Games 3-5, he has one goal and an assist. He had nine shots on goal in Game 3 and attempted 13 in Game 4 but got only three on net.

Perhaps the biggest moment of the series came in the third period of Game 4 when, with the score tied at 2, Ovechkin was in the slot with the puck but failed to finish a Grade A scoring chance because he could not get off a shot.

"You have to bury those when you get the opportunity," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "Better execution in terms of finish."

Ovechkin led the NHL with 355 shots on goal during the regular season. His 72 shots on goal is tops in the playoffs.

"He likes to shoot the puck a lot," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "The more he has it on his stick, in good shooting positions, the better off our team is. So, yeah, we got to work a little bit better for him."

The Lightning would like to improve to 3-0 this postseason in elimination games Monday night to avoid a play-at-your-own risk Game 7 on Wednesday in Amalie Arena. One way to do that is to keep Ovi from being Ovi.

Easier said than done, for sure, but the Lightning did that Saturday.

Capitals center Jay Beagle said he and his teammates have to get Ovechkin the puck tonight "because we know how dangerous he can be."
The Lightning expects that.

"When he tries to change the tide of the game, he's able to do that," Johnson said. "We have to try to do our best job to limit the opportunities that he gets. That's not just one person trying to limit him. It's the whole team. Everyone has to step up against him. He's that good.

"I thought we've done a good job, but we're going to have to continue to do that. I expect him to be even better. We're going to have to be better, as well."

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50.