Eastern Conference finals: Game 4
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals
Series: Capitals lead 2-1
Thursday, Capital One Arena, 8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN
• Nicklas Backstrom could be back in the lineup after missing four games with a right hand injury. (Read more)
• Evgeny Kuznetsov has 20 points through 15 playoff games and is two points short of setting a franchise record. (Read more)
• The Capitals were seen as inexperienced to start the season, but the team thinks its youth relaxed them as the year went on. (Read more)
Top story lines
• Backstrom (might be) back, all right: The top center is officially a “game-time decision,” according to Coach Barry Trotz, but it certainly looks as if Backstrom might play his first game of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night. Backstrom took some line rushes for a first time since he injured his right hand two weeks ago, and he practiced with the top power-play unit. It’s unclear if he would be able to take faceoffs during the game, but the Capitals could pair him with versatile winger Chandler Stephenson to take the draws for him. Backstrom scored 20 goals with 51 assists during the regular season, and he has three goals with 10 assists in 11 playoff games.
“It would be pretty cool,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “So, we’ll see. He wants to [be] back. He wants to be part of the success, and he’s our best center. If he’s going to be in the lineup, it’s going to give us more room to create with the lines and the team’s going to be happy. He’s our leader. We all love him. But we’ll see what happens.”
• Power play: The Capitals’ man-advantage unit has been hot all postseason, but the Lightning’s power play was the difference in Game 3. As Tampa Bay scored two goals, Washington went 0-for-3 when it had five-on-four situations. The Capitals want to do a better job staying out of the penalty box in Game 4 — the team has been called for the most minor penalties this postseason — and they hope to capitalize on their own chances better.
“We have chances,” Ovechkin said. “I missed a couple of chance and that’s blame on me. The guys try to find me over there and if they find me I have to put it in. In this situation, it will come tonight. So, we’ll see.”
While the Capitals have Ovechkin shooting one-timers from the left faceoff circle, the Lightning have Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov doing that from both sides, which is what makes the Tampa Bay power play so challenging to defend.
“They’re obviously making it difficult,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “It’s tough because it’s moving through a bit of a screen where a guy is going right before they’re shooting, so you kind of lose that release. But that was just a coincidence because I know Kucherov had a couple before Stamkos’s goal in the first and I had sight line on them. Everything in goaltending revolves around some sort of sight line. Looking at them, maybe there are some areas where I can lean different ways so I can get a quicker view and I can read those releases. You feel confident in your ability to stop any puck you can, so it’s about battling for that sight line and going from there.
“The one area we want to adjust is just limiting it to one option instead of having both. It makes it tricky on everyone when both options are available. You can’t anticipate as well, you have to react more. It makes for a little bit of a delay. So, we’re going to make some adjustments and I’m going to fight harder for those sight lines. I don’t think it’s the speed with which he’s passing. I’m beating the puck there. It’s just beating the sight line there.”
• Home-ice advantage? Following a playoff-wide trend, the Capitals have been better on the road, but to avoid squandering the two-games-to-none series lead that Washington left Tampa with, the team needs to win Game 4 at Capital One Arena. At least one player has suggested that with the home team having last change, perhaps the road team can get into a better rhythm because it doesn’t worry about matchups as much.
“I think it’s us against the world when you’re on the road, so it always does feel different,” Trotz said. “I just think that any time in the playoffs that a team sort of loses a game, their investment level goes higher and higher. If you have everybody on your bench just being down two percent and everybody on their bench going up two percent, all of the sudden there’s a big change in your desperation level right through your lineup. We’re the team that lost. We’ve got to be desperate.”
Players to watch
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Centering a top line with Alex Ovechkin throughout the playoffs, Kuznetsov has led Washington in scoring with nine goals and 11 assists through 15 games. That means he’s just two points shy of setting a franchise record for the most points in one postseason. As a comparison, Kuznetsov had half as many points (10) in just two fewer games (13) in the Capitals’ playoff run a year ago. He and Ovechkin are likely to be matched against Tampa Bay’s fourth line with center Cedric Paquette and wingers Ryan Callahan and Chris Kunitz in Game 4.
Brayden Point: Point had a two-point effort in Game 3 with his goal and power-play assist. It was Point’s fourth multi-point performance of the postseason. In the past 13 games, he’s scored six goals, had eight assists and 14 points. Only 22 years old, Point surprisingly made the Tampa training camp roster last year, but blossomed as injuries in front of him left him the top center at season’s end. This year, Point anchored the top line, which was routinely matched up against the opponents’ top lines. During the regular season, Point scored 32 goals and had 34 assists.
“He’s a hockey player,” Tampa Coach Jon Cooper said. “The puck drops and its game on for him. A lot of these kids, he is in the conference final, but he’s captained Canada’s world junior team. He’s been in some pretty big environments to play in, so he’s been on this stage before. But his competitiveness is off the charts. He’s just one of those kids that won’t be denied. He just has a lot of respect in the locker room because he’s really quiet, unassuming, doesn’t say very much. He just lets his play do the talking for him.”
Immerse yourself in the Capitals’ postseason with The Post’s coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs:
Unburdened by previous playoff baggage, Capitals’ young players help carry the load
After an uncharacteristic playoff performance, Braden Holtby takes stock — and moves on
Victor Hedman is ‘all over the ice’ in Lightning’s Game 3 win over Capitals
After being blamed for Game 3 loss, Caps fans destroy broom signed by Nicklas Backstrom
I’ll have what Alex Ovechkin is having: Fans can’t get enough of Mamma Lucia’s chicken Parmesan
Steven Stamkos is healthy, confident and ready to lead the Lightning’s comeback
In what could be his last run with Capitals, relentless Jay Beagle refuses to yield
Tony Kornheiser on the Capitals: ‘They’re going to win the Stanley Cup’
Between cancer treatments at the Mayo Clinic, Caps fan flies home to attend Game 3
Caps fan’s viral selfie with Evgeny Kuznetsov was even more charming than it seemed
Caps are finally lucky and good in the playoffs
The Caps and Nats are rolling, and Barry Trotz and Dave Martinez can’t stop texting each other
These Stanley Cup playoffs have given the Capitals all they can handle. And they’ve handled it just fine.
Lars Eller steps out of injured Nicklas Backstrom’s shadow and into the spotlight
Lightning defenseman tried to copy Alex Ovechkin’s moves. Now he’s trying to stop them.
Suddenly, the Capitals are on the right side of a series of fortunate events
‘We are all about the Rangers South’: Capitals face familiar playoff foes in Tampa
Barry Trotz lacks a contract extension, but has perspective as Capitals pursue Stanley Cup
Washington’s expected lineup
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky-Chandler Stephenson-Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos
Braden Holtby (starter)
Tampa Bay’s expected lineup
J.T. Miller-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn-Anthony Cirelli-Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman-Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh-Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn-Mikahil Sergachev
Andrei Vasilevskiy (starter)