Which Version of the Tampa Bay Lightning Will Show Up in Game 4?

Which Version of the Tampa Bay Lightning Will Show Up in Game 4? article feature image

May 15, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) checks Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) in the third period in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Capital One Arena. The Lightning won 4-2. Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For a little while there it looked like the Washington Capitals were about to run through the Lightning and into the Stanley Cup Final. After surprisingly dominant performances in Games 1 and 2, the Capitals dropped Game 3 at home to allow the Bolts back into the series. If you asked any Caps fan before the series if they’d sign up for a 2-1 lead, you bet your bottom dollar they’d take it.

Coin Flip

However, how we got to this point is certainly weird. The Lightning were expected to be the team imposing its will while the Caps would need to steal games with great shooting and goaltending. But we took a flame to that script in the first two games, as the Caps dominated the puck in both tilts. It was wild.

Game 3 saw the Lightning batten down the hatches on defense. Not only was goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy finally sharp — stopping 36 of 38 shots — but Tampa Bay’s stellar defense showed its true colors. The Bolts allowed only 1.24 expected goals (xG) at 5v5 (adjusted for score + venue), easily their best mark of the first three games.

If you look at the overall 5v5 numbers (before adjusting for the score) the Capitals had more shot attempts (42-38) and created more scoring chances (18-16). But that’s largely because the Lightning were ahead for a lot of the game, so naturally Washington put up better numbers.

After adjusting, the Lightning actually had more of the puck (53.3 Corsi For %) and created more scoring chances. In other words, when the game was on equal footing, Tampa’s class came through. The Lightning looked a different team in Game 3, but the truth is that they looked like the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team we saw in the first two games was a different team.

To that end, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that the odds are what they are right now. According to the Action App, here are the closing numbers for Games 1 through 3 and the current number for Game 4 — we’ve got ourselves a pick ’em, ladies and gents.

The market seemed to underrate the Capitals in the first two games of this set and then it overreacted to the first two games by underrating the Lightning in Game 3, as they were listed around +110 for a while. As for Game 4, I think the number is bang on at -110/-110, but I think Tampa Bay will win this game. — Michael Leboff

Welcome Backstrom?

Going into this series I would have told you that Tampa Bay was the far better team. On top of that when you told me that Nicklas Backstrom would most likely miss (at minimum) the beginning of the series I would have gone even further with that thought.

I have been monitoring Backstrom’s status every day, and each day it seems he’s improving, little by little. Before the series began, he just started to get some light work in. By now he’s doing more in practice, and I actually think he was ready to play before Game 3, but the Caps may have held him out because of their 2-0 series lead. On Wednesday, Washington held another skate and Backstrom participated in some light contact drills, one of which was a subtle indication of his Game 4 status. He was participating in a drill that included heavy poke checking, which is important because he’s been dealing with a hand injury and wouldn’t participate in that drill unless he was ready to go.

I expect Backstrom to play in Game 4, and that will be a big boost for the Capitals. They now will have the ability to slot Lars Eller back in his natural third-line center role and it will also lessen the workload for Evgeny Kuznetsov, who played almost 25 minutes in Game 3.

I think the return of Backstrom will be exactly what Washington will need to right the ship and take a 3-1 series lead back to Tampa. — Sean Newsham

Taking one look at the power play setup for the Lightning, it’s pretty clear why Hedman’s shots have drop from 2.75 per game over the past year (91st) to 2.4 over the past month (84th):

Without going too deep into this, Hedman is playing the top of the “umbrella” formation on the power play. His job is to set up Kucherov and Stamkos on his flanks for one-timers, not to shoot, exactly what happened on this Kucherov goal in Game 3. It’s really not too complicated, over the past month, this is the power play shot distribution has broken down for the Lightning:

Kucherov- 1.6 power play shots per game, 99th percentile
Stamkos- 1.0, 97th
Hedman- 0.6, 85th

Did You Know?

The Lightning upset the Caps, 4-2, on Tuesday as +103 underdogs. Can Tampa do it again as a dog in Game 4? Since 2006, teams that won their previous game as an underdog and then are listed as dogs in the next matchup have gone 86-154 (36%) straight-up. A $100 bettor would be down $3,371 wagering on these teams. —John Ewing

Dating back to 2015, the Capitals have won seven consecutive playoff games after losing by two goals or more in their previous game. Five of the seven games were one-goal wins and five of the seven wins were at home as well.

Since the 2010 playoffs, teams in the conference finals are 14-6 when they play at home after at least a two-goal loss. — Evan Abrams