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.
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.