TAMPA — The last time the Lightning saw the Capitals, it got shut out and pushed around.
Neither of those things was an issue Saturday night.
Alex Killorn led the charge on both counts with his first career hat trick and team-high six hits as the Lightning won 6-3 in the teams’ first meeting since last year’s Eastern Conference final.
“Take the goals away, he was still one of the top players on the ice,” coach Jon Cooper said. “How physical he was, how he wanted the puck. How (Killorn’s line) played against (Alex) Ovechkin’s line a lot of the night. That’s what we’ve seen out of Killorn in multiple seasons.”
Killorn’s second goal showed both sides of his play. It wasn’t a smooth goal-scorer’s goal. It was a battle he won.
He got the puck off a turnover, but Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen jostled Killorn to get him off the puck. Killorn gave Jensen a shove, and while he was offbalance, he put a shot on goalie Braden Holtby. Killorn continued to the net and took another whack at the rebound to put the Lightning up 3-1 in the first period.
“He was unbelievable tonight,” said Anthony Cirelli, who assisted on that goal. “He’s skilled, he’s fast, he’s strong. He works so hard every shift every single night. I have a lot of fun playing with him, and he had a heck of a night tonight.”
That goal came after a bit of luck on his first goal. Killorn threw the puck on the net as he spun around at the boards. It deflected off Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov’s leg and past Holtby to put the Lightning up 2-0.
Then in the final minute of the game, Killorn added an empty netter to round out that first hat trick.
“He was getting (ribbed) a little bit because he’s played a few games,” Cooper said. “But in the best way. (His teammates) were pretty excited for him.”
The Lightning collected its 55th win (55-13-4) and 114th point to establish franchise marks, breaking records set last season (54-23-5, 113 points).
Saturday’s game was another example of the Lightning’s scoring depth. It was what the Capitals commented on going into the game and what beat them in the end.
The Lightning scored six goals and none came from players named Stamkos, Kucherov or Point. Tampa Bay didn’t need them this time. Tyler Johnson scored the first goal of the game, with assists from Point and Kucherov. Erik Cernak had a nice goal in the third period to make it 4-2, and Yanni Gourde added another empty-netter in the final seconds.
“They know the depth of scoring is where it’s at,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said before the game. “Oftentimes, the top lines will cancel each other our and it’s your third- and fourth-line guys that are able to chip in offense and be the real difference makers, and for us last year, that was the case.”
Another difference maker for the Capitals last year was that physical presence. The Lightning is a stronger, more physical team that it was the last time these teams met, and it showed Saturday.
Tampa Bay set the tone in the first period. The Lightning outhit the Capitals 14-9 and outscored them 3-1.
Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said the game was won and lost in that first 20 minutes.
“Especially when you look down our lineup, our third and fourth lines need to be physical,” Killorn said. “Especially with a team that tries to, I don’t want to say intimidate you, but they come out and they want their presence to be felt. I think we did a good job of fighting that.”
The Lightning may not talk about its unceremonious exit from the playoffs last season, but Saturday’s game demonstrated that it hasn’t forgotten about it.
“You have to be able to look other teams in the eye,” Cooper said of the physicality. “We did that tonight.”
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Johnson 26 (Kucherov, Point), 8:35. 2, Tampa Bay, Killorn 14, 10:33. 3, Washington, Carlson 12 (Kuznetsov), 12:06. 4, Tampa Bay, Killorn 15 (Joseph, Cirelli), 15:56. Penalties—Palat, TBL, (high sticking), 17:15 Wilson, WSH, (hooking), 18:41 Connolly, WSH, (holding), 18:53
Second Period—5, Washington, Ovechkin 47 (Oshie, Carlson), 7:33 (pp). Penalties—Kucherov, TBL, (interference), 5:59 Kuznetsov, WSH, (slashing), 14:42 McDonagh, TBL, (roughing), 18:49
Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Cernak 4 (McDonagh, Palat), 2:45. 7, Washington, Ovechkin 48 (Connolly, Orlov), 12:56. 8, Tampa Bay, Killorn 16 (Kucherov), 19:13. 9, Tampa Bay, Gourde 19 (Erne, Hedman), 19:58. Penalties—Niskanen, WSH, (holding), 04:10 Palat, TBL, (tripping), 14:22 Wilson, WSH, (miscouduct), 19:46 Cernak, TBL, (misconduct), 19:46.
Shots on Goal—Washington 9-13-11_33. Tampa Bay 16-5-14_35.
Power-play opportunities—Washington 1 of 4 Tampa Bay 0 of 4.
Goalies—Washington, Holtby 27-18-4 (33 shots-29 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 34-8-4 (33-30).
A—19,092 (19,092). Referees—Kendrick Nicholson, Kevin Pollock. Linesmen—Derek Amell, Greg Devorski.