Capitals blank Lightning to force NHL playoff showdown

Washington (AFP) –


Washington's T.J. Oshie scored two goals and Braden Holtby made 24 saves as the Capitals blanked the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 on Monday, equalizing their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Final series at three triumphs each.

Devante Smith-Pelly added another goal as the host Capitals, who lost three games in a row after taking a 2-0 series lead, pushed the playoff matchup to the limit.

"We were sure that if we came in and did what we had to do we would win it," Oshie said.

"Game seven is going to be an all-out war and we wouldn't have it any other way."

The winner-take-all showdown to determine a berth in the Stanley Cup Final will be played Wednesday at Tampa.

When the championship series begins next Monday, either the Lightning or Capitals will face the Vegas Golden Knights, a first-year expansion team trying to defy hometown casino odds of 500-1 by taking the trophy in its inaugural campaign. Vegas beat Winnipeg in the Western Conference final.

Holtby made the fifth playoff shutout of his career, and his first in 84 starts, to keep the Capitals in contention for their first trip to the final since 1998 as they try to hoist the trophy for the first time as well.

"We just said you only get a certain amount of chances and we could do something special here," Smith-Pelly said. "We went out and put it all on the line and I would say that was a perfect game."

Washington's first goal was set up when Tampa Bay's Braydon Coburn was whistled for hooking Smith-Pelly with 6:11 remaining in the second quarter.

Making the most of the extra-man situation, the Capitals seized the lead when Oshie took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and blasted a shot past Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

"Once we scored that first goal we didn't give up our physical side of the game," Oshie said. "We kept pounding at them and played physical and that wears you down."

Oshie raced for a loose puck in the crease behind the Tampa Bay goalie in the final seconds of the second period but Lightning defender Brayden Point was able to knock the puck to the corner and away from the unguarded net.

Smith-Pelly netted an insurance goal for the Capitals with 9:58 remaining in the third period.

Chandler Stephenson outraced a Tampa Bay defender down the rink to avoid an icing call, then slid the puck behind the net to Jay Beagle, who flicked it back out front where onrushing Smith-Pelly smacked it into the left corner for a 2-0 Washington advantage.

"It was speed and physicality," Smith-Pelly said of the deciding factors. "We tried to work hard through 60 minutes."

The Lightning removed Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker in the final minutes but Oshie scored into the empty goal with 50 seconds remaining to secure the victory.