WASHINGTON D.C. — Not only did the Lightning recapture the style of play that won them two straight Stanley Cups in a 2-1 overtime win over the Capitals on Saturday night, but they found new faith in their revamped penalty kill unit.
The Lightning were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill Saturday, and this season the unit is 9-for-10 through three games.
More than that, however, was the critical parts in the game where those kills came and who they came against. Washington’s power play unit is one of the best in the league — the Capitals ranked third last season with a 24.8 percent success rate with the man advantage — and have one of the most dangerous scorers, forward Alex Ovechkin, on their power play unit.
The Lightning killed two power plays with the score tied late, overcoming forward Ondrej Palat’s interference penalty with 5:10 remaining in the third and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev’s cross-checking penalty that forced the Lightning to play shorthanded on 4-on-3 with 1:21 into overtime.
That set the stage for captain Steven Stamkos’ game-winning goal with 14.2 seconds remaining in overtime. But without those penalty kills, the Lightning wouldn’t have been able to provide those last-second heroics.
“It’s huge, especially when you play what I would call the best power play in the league, the biggest shot in the league probably ever (in Ovechkin),” Sergachev said. “So guys did a great job, and Vasy again. It’s just a huge momentum (swing) when you kill those off, you get energy from that. Guys fed off that and played better.”
The Lightning lost three of their top four penalty killing forwards in the offseason when Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow left for Calgary and the Rangers, respectively, in free agency and the Kraken selected Yanni Gourde in the expansion draft.
Last year’s Lightning PK ranked fourth in the league (84.2 percent) in the regular season and had an 84.1 success rate in the postseason, playing a huge role in the Cup run.
Now forward Mathieu Joseph is playing his first extended penalty kill time, combining with veteran newcomer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to form Tampa Bay’s top PK forward pair. They carried the load Saturday, with Bellemare playing 4:22 of shorthanded time and Joseph 3:04. The Lightning’s top PK defenseman pairing, Ryan McDonagh (6:12) and Erik Cernak (5:07), also anchored the unit.
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Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy turned away all seven shots he faced on the penalty kill, including three rocketed by Ovechkin from the left circle. Ovechkin’s two shots on the overtime penalty kill were the Capitals’ only ones of the extra session. And Cernak blocked two Ovechkin shot attempts on the late third-period PK.
The Lightning also won 4-of-5 short-handed faceoffs.
“The big one was in overtime,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Let’s be honest that there was one with five minutes left (in regulation) again. Tough penalty to call when a guy is trying to chip it in, but you’ve got to kill it off and then obviously the one in overtime. Some big blocks, big saves and at the end we got rewarded for it.”
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