Lightning edge Capitals 3-2, move one win from NHL Final

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Miami (AFP)

Ryan Callahan and Cedric Paquette scored goals in the opening seconds of the first two periods Saturday and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat Washington 3-2, moving within one victory of the NHL Final.

Paquette scored the opening goal just 19 seconds into the first period off an assist from Callahan, who found the net 33 seconds into the second period to give the Lightning a 3-0 advantage. They sandwiched their scores around Ondrej Palat's first-period tally.

The host Lightning, who dropped the first two games of the playoff series on home ice, seized a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final with game six on Monday in Washington.

"We've got to get a start like that again," Callahan said. "We know it's going to be emotional."

The Capitals had not dropped three games in a row since January.

The Lightning, who have five playoff wins on the road this year, are 7-0 in playoff games in Washington.

Either Tampa Bay or Washington will face the Western Conference winner, either Las Vegas or Winnipeg, in the Stanley Cup Final. Vegas carries a 3-1 edge in that series into Sunday's game five at Winnipeg.

The Capitals, on their deepest playoff run since a 1998 finals appearance, must win to force a seventh game in Florida on Wednesday and see their fans endure yet another heartbreak.

Washington led the NHL in the regular season the past two seasons only to lose in the second round to eventual champion Pittsburgh each time.

But this month saw a breakthrough as the Capitals eliminated the defending champion Penguins in six games in the second round.

Since Russian star Alex Ovechkin's arrival, the Capitals have lost seven NHL playoff series in a seventh game.

Tampa Bay's Ondrej Palat scored his sixth goal of the playoffs 9:04 into the opening period and Callahan's goal gave the Lightning a commanding edge.

But the Lightning were outshot 26-7 the rest of the way.

"We sat back too much," Callahan said. "I have to give credit to them. There are going to be momentum swings. We have to get it back quicker."

Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov scored for the Capitals 4:21 into the second period, but they came no closer until the game moved into the dying seconds.

The Capitals lifted goaltender Braden Holtby for an extra attacker late in the third period and Ovechkin took advantage, the Capitals' captain blasting a slapshot into the net with 96 seconds remaining in regulation time.

Again Washington sent Holtby to the bench for an extra attacker but Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Russian netminder denied the Capitals three times in the final minute and the Lightning held on the for a victory that touched off an on-ice celebration.

"He has been our backbone all year," Callahan said of the Lightning goalie. "He's the reason why we're here."