TAMPA, Fla. — Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone scored 24 seconds apart in the third period and the streaking Tampa Bay Lightning beat Washington 4-3 to push the top-seeded Capitals to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday night.
After winning twice in Washington, the Lightning returned home and rallied to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Tampa Bay can advance to the conference finals with a victory at home on Wednesday night in Game 4.
Vincent Lecavalier and Sean Bergenheim also scored for the fifth-seeded Lightning, whose sixth straight postseason win gave them a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series. Tampa Bay hasn't lost since falling into a 3-1 hole against Pittsburgh in the first round.
Alex Ovechkin had a power-play goal and an assist for Washington, which led 3-2 heading into third period after Mike Knuble, John Carlson and Ovechkin scored in the second.
The momentum shifted suddenly on Stamkos' fourth goal of the playoffs. The sellout crowd of 20,613 had barely stopped celebrating when Malone – camped to the right of Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth – directed Nate Thompson's pass into the left corner of the net for a 4-3 lead with 14:13 remaining.
Dwayne Roloson stopped 29 shots for the Lightning. Tampa Bay won three straight games to knock out Pittsburgh and is now just a victory away from reaching the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since the Lightning won their only Stanley Cup title in 2004.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said before the game that his team was confident it could get back into the series, noting that both games in Washington were tight and that a "little tweak" here or there and the Southeast Division champions may well have arrived in Tampa in a much better position.
The Capitals outshot the Lightning 13-8 in the first period, but Roloson stopped a couple of point-blank shots, and Washington cost itself a power-play and early lead when it was penalized for having too many men on the ice.
A little over three minutes after an apparent goal by Knuble was waved off, Bergenheim scored his second of the series – fifth of the playoffs – for a 1-0 lead. The Capitals erased that and jumped in front on goals by Knuble and Carlson that made it 2-1 with 12 minutes remaining in the second period.
Lecavalier, whose goal in overtime won Game 2, countered for Tampa Bay, beating Neuvirth from in front off a feed from Martin St. Louis to make it 2-2.
Ovechkin assisted on Washington's first goal, sending a nifty backhanded pass to Knuble from the left corner. The two-time NHL MVP took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play, scoring on a rebound that put the Capitals up 3-2 late in the second.
But Neuvirth, a 23-year-old rookie, couldn't hold the advantage.
NOTES: During the singing of the national anthem, blocks of fans passed a large American flag around a portion of the lower bowl of the arena. ... Tampa Bay LW Simon Gagne and D Pavel Kubina, both out because of undisclosed upper body injuries, won't play before Game 5 at the earliest or the opener of the conference finals. "They're day to day, except for today and tomorrow," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. ... Boudreau said D Dennis Wideman (leg injury) didn't make the trip to Florida.