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Lightning-Capitals: Grading Tampa Bay’s 4-2 victory over Washington in Game 3

It sounds trite, but your best players really do have to be your best players come playoff time.

Enter Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final Tuesday, with the Lightning on the edge of a cliff.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy: 36 saves

Victor Hedman: goal, two assists

Nikita Kucherov: goal, assist

Steven Stamkos: goal, assist

Brayden Point: goal, assist

Who knows why it took two games, but the Lightning woke up, fed off the Capitals' nonchalance and jumped back into this playoff series with a complete-team effort for a convincing 4-2 win. Here's the grades:

Answer-levskiy

Vasilevskiy, overwhelmed the first two games of the series, set the tone for this road win and answered doubters. He had a resounding first-period 14 stops, including a big save late in the period on Alex Ovechkin. Vasilevskiy's team fed off him. Grade: A

Powerful

The Lightning power play answered twice, behind Stamkos and Kucherov, both on feeds from Hedman. That's three goals in as many games and five goals in his past six for Stamkos. Your best players … Grade: A

Little things are big things

It's the playoffs and everything matters. There was Point's work in the Capitals' zone to keep things going, which led to a tripping call on Braden Holtby, which led to Stamkos' goal. Point later added a goal himself. There was the forecheck and general pressure from the line of Cedric Paquette, Ryan Callahan and Chris Kunitz. Paquette knocked a Cap into the bench when he wasn't winning faceoffs. Kunitz plowed into Ovechkin. It was hard-nosed, must-win hockey. Grade: A

Bang, bang

Hedman, the best player on the ice Tuesday, got a playoff goal on a fabulous Kucherov feed. Hedman banged his stick on the ice to get Kucherov's attention by pounding his stick on the ice. When 18,000 people are screaming, you have to make your presence known. Hedman did. Kucherov did. And the score was 3-0. Hedman has points in eight consecutive playoffs games, the longest streak by a defenseman since 1995. Grade: A

Subtle, but successful

Lightning coach Jon Cooper tweaked his lines and it paid off. Ondrej Palat went onto the Stamkos-Kucherov line and J.T. Miller joined Alex Killorn and Point. And both lines had jam and jump. Grade: A

Playing with fire, again

Bad penalty from Anton Stralman when he plastered Washington's Tom Wilson into the glass. The Lightning had just had a couple of good shifts in Washington's end and a man disadvantage against the potent Caps power play is just what wasn't needed. But Vasilevskiy had Stralman's back, as did Callahan as the penalty kill produced. And a bad penalty by Callahan, roughing Wilson, which made the Lightning make another kill. But it did. Grade: C

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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