There's an argument that they could have given him the night off on Tuesday to promote further healing with the team holding a healthy 2-0 lead series lead.
Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was not in the lineup for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, missing his fourth straight game with a right hand injury. After all, Stamkos struck with one-timers in Games 1 and 2 as well and Tampa Bay is now clicking at a 41.7% clip (5 for 12) during the series.
"I think as soon as they got the lead, we tried to rush plays, make some plays through the neutral zone, " said Washington star Alex Ovechkin, who took nine shots but never connected. The Lightning's backbreaker goals were in the second period, especially the two in the first 3:37, but the long stretch where they kept Washington scoreless set the tone.
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The Bolts are fighting off a Caps power play with a little over 15 minutes left in the period. Less than two minutes into the second period, Nikita Kucherov tallied a power play goal of his own.
For that to happen, Tampa Bay's best players - forwards Stamkos and Kucherov and Brayden Point, defenceman Victor Hedman and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy - needed to answer the bell. Coach Barry Trotz said Backstrom was a game-time decision before each of the games in the conference final. The cameras dispersed. He turned and walked toward the dressing room, leaving only one matter unsettled: Whose goal was nicer, Kucherov's or his?
Backstrom participated in the morning skate on Tuesday and before a 6-2, Game 2 win at Tampa Bay on Sunday. We rely on him a ton, he's a horse and most nights if he's going well, we're going well as a team.
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"They're your top players because to get to this point you need to make sure you have 97-plus points during an 82-game season, and those guys were a big reason that we got to that point", said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. "Obviously, you can see we didn't score, they scored". Those two penalties led to the first two goals for Tampa Bay. "I always like that, and I think that it brings out in the best in me, and now with Nick out I've just been playing more minutes".
It was true last round against Boston, when the linemates combined for two goals and an assist in a Game 4 road win. "If you can dominate the wall plays, you can usually have success and create odd-man rushes, and [we] do a good job of that". "They've got a ton of experience and when their backs have been against the wall, they've shown a propensity to fight back". But Washington's power play could not connect on its opportunities the way that Tampa Bay had.
"We checked. That was it", said Cooper, on the differences between the first two games and Game 3.
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