It wasn’t Andrei Vasilevsky’s fault, but it’s hard to beat perfection. The Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender stopped 31 of 33 Capitals shots tonight in Washington’s 3-0 win over the Bolts in Game 6. Several of those saves were spectacular—though unsurprising for anyone who had seen Vasilevsky’s previous three games—including a superbly athletic move with the game scoreless at the end of the first.
But on a night when the Capitals defense held Tampa’s offense to only 24 shots, with only a few real challenges on Braden Holtby before the Lightning were down in the third period, Vasilevsky’s two goals against were more than enough for the Caps to even the series and force a Game 7. After three straight disappointing losses, Washington recovered to play a front-to-back immaculate 60 minutes, saving themselves from an undignified playoff exit by doing everything right.
While the normally unbeatable Lightning power play went silent in a pair of high-leverage chances, the Caps made good on the one opportunity they got. With five minutes to play in the second period, T.J. Oshie somehow found enough space while surrounded by Boltmen to slap a one-time shot into the back of the net. His power-play goal held up as the game-winner.
And as the Lightning increased their efforts on the attack in the third and continued to come up empty, they left themselves open on the other end, and the Caps’ fourth line took advantage. Chandler Stephenson hustled to negate an icing call, then served up a golden chance for Devante Smith-Pelly right in front to tap home an insurance goal that wouldn’t even be needed with 10 minutes to play.
This was the best possible game the Capitals could have played, not just because it’s good to give Braden Holtby and the team their first shutout of the postseason, but also because shutting down the Lightning forwards felt like such an impossible task over their last three losses. The Capitals didn’t just beat the Lightning—they stonewalled Tampa Bay, deflating a juggernaut offense in their biggest game of the season so far. After that performance, they deserve at least one more game.