Tampa Bay Sports Day

Bonts: Have Bolts Erased Taste of Last Year’s Playoff Debacle?

TORONTO – Tampa Bay won its 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs opener against Washington at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena as the Lightning upended the Capitals 3-2 in a shootout.

Tampa Bay and Washington were each playing their first of three round robin games to determine seeding for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Last season’s playoff run started and ended badly for the favored Bolts. The Lightning were favored to beat the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets to open the postseason.

Columbus swept Tampa Bay.

Last season’s Lightning are the only Presidents’ Trophy winner in NHL history to be swept in the first round. Looked like Tampa Bay has fast forwarded to this year with yesterday’s victory.

The Lightning converted two of their three shootout attempts with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov scoring. Kucherov’s round three conversion proved to be the game-deciding goal.

Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy denied two-of-three Capitals’ attempts in the shootout, stopping shots from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom. Vasilevskiy stopped 31-of-33 shots to earn the victory.

T.J. Oshie was the only skater to convert in the shootout for Washington.The shootout was the first ever played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tampa Bay struck first in regulation, Kucherov scoring on a wrist shot from the left dot to the far upper corner over the glove of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby to put the Lightning in front 1-0 at 12:53 of the opening period. Brayden Point registered the lone assist.

Mitchell Stephens pushed the Lightning lead to 2-0 at 7:48 of the second period after redirecting a puck from the edge of the crease into the net in his first career playoff game. Ryan McDonagh and Pat Maroon tallied the assists on Stephens’ goal.

But the Caps’ tied it up late in the second period.

Washington responded with a pair of goals in the final three minutes of the second period to tie the game 2-2 heading into the second intermission.

Richard Panik pounced on a loose puck hanging on the goal line to get Washington on the board at 17:24 of the second period. Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on the power play with 28 seconds left in the second period to tie the game 2-2.

The Lightning own two points in round robin play and are tied with Philadelphia atop the Eastern Conference round robin standings with all four teams – Tampa Bay (2 pts.), Philadelphia (2 pts.), Washington (1 pt.) and Boston (0 pts.) — having played one game.

The Lightning continue the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with their second of three round robin games Wednesday, Aug. 5 at the Boston Bruins (4 p.m. puck drop) from Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.

GAME NOTES: Tampa Bay played its first game in 146 days….the Lightning defeated the Capitals for the first time in 2019-20 and ended a four-game losing skid to the Caps overall….Tampa Bay won a postseason game for the first time since a 3-2 win in Game 5 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Capitals at AMALIE Arena….Washington outshot Tampa Bay 33-28. Zach Bogosian, Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev each had three shot to pace the Bolts….Mitchell Stephens and Zach Bogosian both made their Stanley Cup Playoffs debuts….Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos (lower-body injury) did not play against Washington.

PLAYOFF NOTES: Former Jacksonville Icemen forward Jansen Harkins of the Winnipeg Jets scored in the first period of the NHL playoff game against Calgary. This is his first year with the Jets. Harkins played for the Icemen during the 2017-28 season. The Jets won 3-2 and have tied the series with the Flames at one game apiece. Thanks for Alex Reed for the Icemen for the note.