The curse is over: Caps reach ECF for first time in 20 seasons

The Stanley Cup Playoffs continued to amaze as dramatic moments and close finishes dominated Week 4.

April 30 saw the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights look to get back on track after gut-wrenching losses.

After an embarrassing 6-2 loss in Game 1 against the Boston Bruins, the Lightning looked to bounce back and even the series. Both teams kept the game tightly contested through two periods. Tampa held a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes, with Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson scoring for the Lightning and Charlie McAvoy scoring for the Bruins. But Tampa extended their lead late in the third with a goal from Ondrej Palát. Shortly after, Boston’s Torey Krug cut the lead back down to a goal. But the Lightning finished it off with an empty-netter from Brayden Point, his fourth point of the game. The Lightning won 4-2 to tie the series at a game apiece.

Out West, the Golden Knights looked to bounce back from a double overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 2. When the scene shifted to San Jose for Game 3, the Sharks looked to take advantage. They jumped out a 1-0 lead in the second period with a goal from Timo Meier. But Vegas responded with three goals in that frame from Colin Miller, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. The Sharks, however, made a furious comeback in the third, with goals from Evander Kane and Tomás Hertl, the latter coming with less than two minutes remaining. The game required overtime, where Vegas got revenge. William Karlsson scored the winning goal to give the Golden Knights a 4-3 win and a 2-1 series lead.

May 1 saw the two most anticipated matchups resume action.

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins faced off in Game 3, with the series now in Pittsburgh. After a scoreless first period, mayhem ensued in the second. Just 48 seconds in, John Carlson gave the Caps a 1-0 lead. The Pens responded six minutes later with two goals of their own from Jake Guentzel and Patric Hörnqvist. Washington’s Chandler Stephenson tied the game at 2 shortly after. But with less than four minutes remaining in the game, Sidney Crosby gave the Pens a 3-2 lead. It set up a crucial third period, where the Capitals began to take over. Five minutes in, Matt Niskanen tied the game at 3. The score would remain that way, until the final minute. Alexander Ovechkin scored the biggest goal of his playoff career with 1:07 remaining to give Washington a 4-3 lead. That would hold up until the final buzzer, and the Caps escaped with a win and a 2-1 series lead.

The Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets squared off in Game 3, with the series now in Winnipeg. The first two periods were a tale of two teams. Nashville led 3-0 after the first, with goals from Mike Fisher, P.K. Subban and Austin Watson. Winnipeg responded with a four-goal outburst in the second period, with goals from Paul Stastny, Dustin Byfuglien twice and Jacob Trouba. The Preds’ Filip Forsberg tied the game at 4 early in the third period. The Jets, however, quickly put the game away. They scored three unanswered goals after that, courtesy of Blake Wheeler twice and Brandon Tanev. The Jets took Game 3 7-4 and took a 2-1 series lead.

May 2 saw the Lightning and Sharks take control.

With the series shifted in Boston, the Bruins looked to take advantage of the rowdy home crowd. The Lightning had other ideas. The team jumped out to a 3-1 lead after the first period, with two goals from Palát and a tally from Anthony Cirelli. Patrice Bergeron scored for Boston. That score would hold up for almost the entire game, as Tampa’s Steven Stamkos added an insurance goal late in the third. Strong defense and 28 saves from Andrei Vasilevskiy led the Lightning to a 4-1 win and a 2-1 series lead.

The Sharks looked to get even with the Golden Knights once again and played perhaps their best hockey in Game 4. They did not let Vegas get going at all, shutting them down with a combination of strong defense and outstanding goaltending from Martin Jones. San Jose got goals from Marcus Sörensen and Joonas Donskoi in the first, Hertl in the second and Joe Pavelski in the third. Jones stopped all 34 shots, and the Sharks evened the series at two games apiece with a 4-0 victory.

May 3 saw the Penguins and Predators seeking revenge after tough Game 3 defeats.

The Penguins and Capitals continued to play physical, tightly contested hockey in Game 4. With the game scoreless after the first period, the two teams made stronger pushes in the second. Midway through, Guentzel broke the ice for Pittsburgh. T.J. Oshie responded with a goal of his own for Washington a few minutes later. But the Penguins regained the lead minutes later, thanks to Evgeni Malkin. The 2-1 lead would stick until the final minutes, where Guentzel scored his playoff-leading 10th goal to secure a 3-1 win for Pittsburgh. The Penguins tied the series at two with the scene shifting back to the nation’s capital.

The Jets looked to put a stranglehold on the Predators in Game 4, but Nashville stood tall behind excellent play from goaltender Pekka Rinne. He made save after save to keep Winnipeg off the board and got the offensive help he needed. Ryan Hartman scored late in the first period, while P.K. Subban scored late in the second. Nashville took a 2-0 lead into the third period and almost came away with a shutout. The Jets’ Patrik Laine scored with 51 seconds left, but that would be all. Behind 32 saves from Rinne, the Predators evened the series at two games apiece with a 2-1 victory. The series will move back to Nashville for Game 5.

May 4 saw the Lightning and Golden Knights move to within one win of the Conference Finals.

In Boston, the Lightning looked to take full control of their series against the Bruins. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, with goals from Point and Nikita Kucherov. But the Bruins gradually came back in the game and scored a goal in each period, with David Pastrnák  in the first, and Bergeron in the second and third periods. Boston’s 3-2 lead would not last, as Stamkos tied the game at 3. The game would go to overtime, where an unlikely hero emerged. A little over three minutes into the extra frame, Dan Girardi scored the game-winner to give the Lightning a 4-3 victory and a commanding 3-1 series lead going back to Tampa for Game 5.

The Golden Knights and Sharks were back in Las Vegas for a crucial Game 5. Vegas seemed to be the hungrier team for most of the game, taking a 4-0 lead in the third period. James Neal scored late in the first, Alex Tuch scored twice and Erik Haula added a tally. But San Jose stayed resilient, scoring three consecutive goals in the third, courtesy of Kevin Labanc, Hertl and Mikkel Boedker. Vegas still led 4-3, but added a late insurance goal, thanks to Marchessault. The Golden Knights escaped with a 5-3 victory and took a 3-2 series lead.

May 5 saw the Capitals and Jets take control with offensive outbursts.

Back in Washington for Game 5, the Capitals and Penguins played back-and-forth through the first two periods. Jamie Oleksiak gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead in the first, but Washington responded with two goals from Carlson and Brett Connolly. Crosby and Hornqvist scored for the Pens in the second to give them a 3-2 lead heading into the third.

In that third period, the Capitals took over, scoring four unanswered goals, courtesy of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jakub Vrána, Oshie and Lars Eller. Washington took Game 5 6-3 and headed back to Pittsburgh with a chance to close out the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Predators looked to take their first lead of their series against the Jets with the Nashville crowd behind them. But Nashville did not play particularly well, as Winnipeg jumped all over the Preds’ defense. After a scoreless first period, the Jets’ offense began to emerge. Winnipeg led 4-2 after the second period, getting goals from Stastny, Byfuglien and Kyle Connor twice. Yannick Weber and Ryan Johansen scored for Nashville. But the Jets iced the game in the third, with goals from Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault. Winnipeg took Game 5 6-2 and head back home with a chance to close out the series.

May 6 saw the Lightning and Golden Knights move on in their Stanley Cup quests.

After taking two games in Boston, the Lightning looked to snub the Bruins back home in Game 5. Boston, however, took a 1-0 lead late in the first period thanks to David Krejcí. But Tampa elevated their game after the first and scored three unanswered goals in the remaining 40 minutes. Point, J.T. Miller and Anton Stralman all scored and Vasilevskiy made 27 saves. The Lightning eliminated the Bruins in five games to move onto the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Golden Knights looked to keep their historic season going in Game 6 against the Sharks.

They did not miss a beat, as everything clicked in this game. Marchessault, Nate Schmidt and Cody Eakin scored, Marc-André Fleury made 28 saves and the defense completely shut down San Jose. Vegas took Game 6 3-0 and the series four games to two, now awaiting either Nashville or Winnipeg in the Western Conference Finals.

On May 7, the Capitals beat the Penguins 2-1 to move past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. They will face the Lighting in the Eastern Conference Finals to determine which team will represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.