At times Friday, Tampa Bay seemed to be holding on by a thread. But before it all unraveled, the Lightning pulled themselves back up and pulled out another playoff victory.
Dwayne Roloson stopped 26 shots, Sean Bergenheim scored for the third consecutive game and Tampa Bay beat Washington 4-2 to grab Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Lightning will carry a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series into Sunday's Game 2 at Verizon Center.
Tampa Bay killed off five Washington power-play chances and has been successful in killing 39-of-40 chances in the postseason.
The Lightning, coming off a Game 7 victory in Round 1 against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, were forced to play most of Friday with 10 forwards after Simon Gagne left in the first period after his head hit the ice following a clean hit from defenseman Scott Hannan that knocked Gagne unconscious on the ice. Then defenseman Pavel Kubina left late in the second after an elbow to the back of his head delivered by Washington's Jason Chimera.
But despite the short bench, Tampa Bay found a way to rally from down a goal early in the second with a pair of goals late in the same period after withstanding a Washington surge for more than a 20-minute stretch of play from the midway point in the first until the middle part of the second.
"It wasn't easy. They have a lot of firepower on that team and they are well rested, and I don't think it showed that they are rusty. They came out strong,'' said center Steven Stamkos, who scored his first career playoff game-winning goal. "I thought we did need to weather that storm, Roli did make a few saves and we didn't let ourselves get behind the 8-ball after they took the lead. It just seemed that we had that calming presence on the bench and we stuck to our structure.''
It's the structure that keeps Tampa Bay on top of its game, having won four consecutive playoff games since falling behind 3-1 in the series against Pittsburgh. The Lightning never seem to get rattled no matter the situation, and they showed it again on Friday.
Bergenheim opened the scoring, finding a loose puck beside goaltender Michal Neuvirth in the crease for a 1-0 lead just 2:12 into the game as the Lightning jumped to a 7-0 shot advantage in the first four minutes. But after Brett Clark had his clearing attempt from his own zone deflected by Marco Sturm, Alexander Semin sent the first Washington shot of the game through Roloson at 4:08 that began the Capitals' surge.
It carried over into the second when Eric Fehr went to the net off a offensive zone faceoff and tapped in a Chimera pass 1:51 into the period, and it appeared as if the rout was about to begin.
But after Steve Downie scored his second goal of the postseason after his pass attempt deflected off Hannan and into the net with 3:43 left in the second, Tampa Bay began to steady the ship. And with Chimera off for the elbow delivered to Kubina, Stamkos knocked in a rebound of an Eric Brewer shot with 31.6 seconds left to regain the lead.
"That was huge, and it kind of swung the momentum a little bit. At the end of a period, those goals are always killer to give up, so we realized the importance of that one,'' said Stamkos, who has three goals in the postseason.
From there, even with a shortened bench due to the injury losses, Tampa Bay locked it down, limiting Washington to five shots in the third period despite getting two opportunities with the man advantage.
"They make it frustrating. They just hang back,'' Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said of Tampa Bay's play in the third. "You're trying to push, and they are very good at it. That's why when they get a lead, and they got the lead against Pittsburgh, they hold on to it.''
And that's how they have played throughout the past four games, despite the long odds.
"The first round has given us some tools to be calmer under pressure, but having said that, that team we are playing is quite a hockey machine and I can tell you at ice level they look outstanding,'' Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "It was surprising to come in today and be able to win one of the two here, and to be honest we were not expecting that.
"And this was very exhausting for our players after playing a Game 7, and the players went beyond what they had to give. And that scares me a bit for the next game. We won the game, but there is going to be a lot of work ahead.''