With the Capitals trying to make a push, the Lightning countered with a rapid-fire attack that has Washington wobbling.
Tampa Bay scored twice in less than a minute in the third period to rally for a 4-3 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal in front of an announced sell out crowd 20,613 at the St. Pete Times Forum on Tuesday.
Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone scored the tying and winning goals a franchise-record 24 seconds apart, while Dwayne Roloson stopped 29 shots to help Tampa Bay win its sixth consecutive game. Vinny Lecavalier and Sean Bergenheim also scored for the Lightning, which is within one victory of advancing to the Eastern Conference final for the second time in franchise history.
With a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, Tampa Bay has the chance to deliver the knock-out blow to the top-seeded Capitals tonight in Game 4.
"That team is a good team, it's going to be hard to win four games,'' right wing Marty St. Louis said. "We are glad about the result tonight, but we have to reload for (tonight) because we know it's going to be a hard game.''
Not that Tuesday was a waltz up the ice.
Washington erased a 1-0 first-period deficit with three goals in the second to carry a 3-2 lead into the third. The Capitals dominated most of the middle frame, outshooting Tampa Bay 14-7 and getting goals from Mike Knuble, defenseman John Carlson and captain Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin's goal came with 2:33 left in the period on a two-man advantagem the first power play goal of the series for Washington, which entered the game 0-for-11.
With a seemingly new commitment to playing team defense, the Capitals were expected to lock things down and cut the series deficit in half.
Tampa Bay, however, knew what was at stake and used the second intermission to discuss what things went wrong and how to correct them in the final period.
"I think we were waiting for things to happen in the second period and our focus wasn't right,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "We just got back and reloaded and came out the way we're supposed to play.''
That meant going back on the attack and dictating play instead of letting the Capitals come at them. With the counter-punching mentality, Tampa Bay started applying pressure in the offensive zone, getting pucks on net and putting Washington back on its heels.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Lightning had the lead as Stamkos scored his fourth goal of the playoffs. After Victor Hedman kept the puck in the zone along the right boards, Stamos collected the loose puck and skated to the slot area, where he ripped a wrist shot over Michal Neuvirth at 5:23.
On the next shift, Nate Thompson raced down the right wing boards and fed a puck toward the crease that was deflected in by Malone at 5:47. The two quick goals seemed to take the fight out of the Capitals.
"They are uncanny when they want to get a goal, it's like they snap their fingers or hit a button . . . they just dial it up,'' Knuble said. "You can see it. It's like they flip a switch. When they are down, it's just like they think, 'We know we are going to score'. I don't know what it is, it leaves you flabbergasted.''
With the lead, Tampa Bay kept pressing the attack. The Lightning not only fired 15 shots on goal in the third, equaling their total through two periods, but held the Capitals to just five shots on goal, none in the final 1:47 of play as Washington played with the sixth attacker.
"I thought our third period was probably one of the best periods we have played in the playoffs,'' Stamkos said. "That just shows the attitude we have. Being down going into the third period we could easily have folded it up and said we'll give them this game and it will still be 2-1 for us, but that never crossed our mind. We weren't afraid to lose tonight. We were hungry to win.''
3 Stars of the Game
1. Lightning C Nate Thompson: Set up Ryan Malone's winning goal, blocked four shots and won 11 of 18 faceoffs.
2. Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin: Scored one goal and set up another during 27 dynamic shifts. Added four hits and took five shots.
3. Lightning LW Sean Bergenheim: Set the tone early with a first-period goal and pestered Capital players all over the ice.