Lars Eller cripples Caps in Game 4 loss

Chris Russell
May 18, 2018 - 12:49 pm
Steven_Stamkos_Andrei_Vasilevskiy

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Another home game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Another loss for the Capitals. They are now 3-5 at Capital One Arena this year in the postseason and a combined 6-9 over the last two years.

Yuk.

Sure, they largely outplayed the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-2 loss, but besides the scoreboard, the game was lost in many other ways. The Caps were less than special again when they needed to be good on special teams. That’s where this game was won and lost. 

1 – The Capitals power play, once again, stunk up the joint. They were 0-4 with eight full minutes of time, and while they did get 9 of their 38 shots-on-goal with the extra-man advantage, they completely let Tampa off the hook.

Washington had three power plays over the final eight-and-a-half minutes of the first period and not only did they not score, they got booed by their rightfully frustrated, passionate fanbase.

They had some good chances, at times. Alex Ovechkin had several early on and buried blasts in the body armor of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was simply terrific.

The hard work that it took to draw the penalties by Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana and company was washed away by the second power play, which was a complete debacle. The Caps couldn't gain the entry point. They turned the puck over (Andre Burakovsky) and weren't sharp with passes. They had one very late, weak shot at the end of that penalty kill by Tampa.

On the third power play of that small stretch, Tampa was pressuring the puck in the neutral zone and not letting the Caps set up. They took away Alex Ovechkin for the most part and Washington had very little energy.

By my count, and using NHL.com play-by-play as a reference, the Caps had five shots on Vasilevskiy on the first power play, and two shots combined on the remaining two opportunities, for the seven extra-man shots they had.

A huge, defining moment. "We needed the period to end there," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.

Especially combined with Tampa’s 3-3 performance during their Game 3 win. They're now 7-for-7 in Washington and have killed 11 of 14 overall in the series.

"They’ve been doing a great job," Cooper said of his penalty killers. "You’re trying to take away their threats and it's tough, because they have so many. Hopefully you're just giving up a 'B' chance. Don’t give up the 'A' chances."

This was after struggling miserably during the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs. This was where the series would have to be won for the Caps, as we outlined as our No. 1 key before the series, with the numbers to prove it.

2 – Lars Eller has now taken five minor penalties in the two games at Capital One Arena, four leading to power plays for the Lightning, who have been lights-out with the extra-man.

In other words – they've been everything the Caps haven’t been in this regard.

Eller's holding penalty in the first led to Tampa taking a 2-1 lead on a Steven Stamkos goal, and Eller's penalty in the third period had expired by six seconds, with the Capitals still scrambling in their own end, before the game-winning goal was scored by Alex Killorn.

"It's way too many. It's on Lars and no one else," Caps coach Barry Trotz said. "He’s been great in this series. We've gotta get him out of the box."

3 – The first goal of the game was scored by Dmitry  Orlov, a rocket, but he got terrific help from T.J. Oshie and Matt Niskanen. It was the 12th time in 16 games that Washington scored first. The problem? They gave it right back 1:10 later, as a bad turnover by Michal Kempny led to a perfect tic-tac-toe passing play by the Lightning, and Brayden Point beat Braden Holtby for his third goal for the series and seventh of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Brayden vs. Braden and who won that battle was also a big key, and so far, Brayden is getting the best of Braden.

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