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Lightning-Capitals: How Tampa Bay’s early surges carried the day

TAMPA — Dan Girardi knew where the puck was heading. It was heading to Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer on net, so Girardi did the only thing he could do. He blocked it.

With his rump.

"It hit me right in the cheek," said Girardi, the Lightning defenseman. "I don't know if I can say that."

He can.

"A little padding there," Girardi explained.

There were 19 seconds on the clock and the Lightning clung to a one-goal lead when Girardi blocked the blast by Ovechkin.

"It's just that point in the game," Girardi said. "You have to block that shot."

It is that point in the season, too.

With the help of Girardi's check, the goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy and goals from a pair of unlikely sources — Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan — the Lightning inched closer to another trip to the Stanley Cup final with a 3-2 win Saturday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final against the Capitals.

The Lightning needs one more win in this best-of-seven series to reach the Cup final for the second time in four seasons and third time in franchise history.

Columnist Tom Jones and staff writer Roger Mooney break down the Lightning’s 3-2 victory as the series heads back to Washington with Tampa Bay leading 3-2

Posted by Tampa Bay Times - Sports on Saturday, May 19, 2018

Game 6 is Monday in Washington D.C.

"We haven't won anything yet," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "You have to get four, not three."

The Lightning, the first home team to win a game in this series, has won three straight after dropping the first two games.

"We found ourselves in a hole down 2-nothing; to be able to win three in a row is a good feeling, although we're not there yet," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "You don't take any comfort in it. We know how quickly a series can turn around and we still have a job that we want to finish."

The Lightning was in this position before, leading the Penguins 3-2 in the 2016 conference final before dropping the final two, including Game 6 at Amalie Arena.

Callahan referenced that after Saturday's win, saying, "We have a lot of unfinished business. That last (win) is the hardest."

Winning No. 3 in this series was no picnic either, although it began that way.

Paquette, on the ice to start the game with Callahan and Chris Kunitz to stop the Ovechkin line from scoring, scored his first postseason goal just 19 seconds into the game.

"I think to get that goal right away gave us a lot of confidence," Girardi said. "We fed off that line all night."

Ondrej Palat scored less than nine minutes later for a 2-0 lead as the Lightning turned in what it felt was its best period of the postseason. It outshot the Capitals 13-4, and Vasilevskiy was not tested on any of those shots.

It expected a pushback from the Capitals in the second, yet scored again just 33 seconds in when a rebound off a shot from Stralman hit Callahan's leg as he crashed the net and bounced past goalie Braden Holtby.

Ovechkin was held without a shot for the first two periods, thanks to the work by Paquette, Callahan, Kunitz, Stralman and Ryan McDonagh.

But Ovechkin was going to find some space, and that came late in the third.

His first shot clanged off the crossbar, then he finally got one past Vasilevskiy with 1:36 to play to make it a one-goal game.

With Holtby out of the net, the Caps' final push came with the extra skater. The Lighting was ready.

McDonagh blocked a shot.

Vasilevskiy stopped a shot by John Carlson.

He stopped another by T.J. Oshie.

Girardi blocked Ovechkin's shot.

Vasilevskiy stopped another shot by Carlson.

Then, with one second left, Victor Hedman blocked a shot by Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Game over.

On to Washington with a chance to close out the series. The Lightning is 2-0 this postseason in elimination games. The Caps, meanwhile, are on the verge of losing their 11th playoff series when leading 2-0 or 3-1.

Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow @rogermooney50.

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