Cedric Paquette scored in the opening minute and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 shots to help the Tampa Bay Lightning hold off the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Saturday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final.
Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan also scored as the home team won for the first time in the best-of-seven matchup, with the Lightning taking a 3-2 series lead and moving within one victory of advancing the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four seasons.
The Capitals, in the conference final for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era, have lost three straight after winning twice on the road to begin the series.
Ovechkin scored with 1:36 remaining, trimming what once was a three-goal lead to one, however Vasiliveskiy made three more saves down the stretch to finish the victory.
Game 6 is Monday night in Washington, where Tampa Bay has already won to improve to 5-1 on the road this postseason.
The Capitals won the first two games on the road, scoring 10 goals on Vezina Trophy finalist Vasilevskiy and sending the Lightning — won had the best record in the East during the regular season — into desperation mode.
Tampa Bay responded by winning Game 3 in Washington, evening the series despite being outshot and outplayed for sizeable stretches of a 4-2 victory in Game 4 and returning home, where coach Jon Cooper was confident the Lightning would be better than they were in the first two games.
Turns out Cooper was right.
Washington’s Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone on the opening shift of the night and Callahan made the Caps pay for the mistake, feeding Paquette for a 1-0 lead just 19 seconds into the game.
Palat’s second goal of the series made it 2-0. Tampa Bay extended the advantage to three goals when Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period.
Outshot 13-4 and limited to one scoring opportunity in the opening period, the Caps began to put some pressure on Vasilevskiy in the second.
Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal in his fourth straight game, giving him a franchise single-year, playoff-best 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) and trimming Washington’s deficit to 3-1 at 4:21 of the period.
The Capitals kept pressing in the third period, but didn’t breakthrough against until Ovechkin scored his 11th goal this postseason.