Capitals clinch series opener

TAMPA — Alex Ovechkin and Jay Beagle scored in a three-minute span straddling the first and second periods as the Washington Capitals manhandled the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 in the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals.

The Capitals seized control of Friday’s contest on a bizarre sequence that included a Tampa goal waived off for a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty.

Just two seconds later, the Capitals scored on the powerplay in front of a crowd of 19,090 at Tampa’s Amalie Arena.

So instead of the game being tied 1-1, Washington took a 2-0 lead into the intermission on Ovechkin’s powerplay goal and then jumped out to a 3-0 cushion when Beagle scored, only 2:40 into the second period.

“We had a good start. We didn’t give them much,” said Ovechkin, who is playing in the first Conference finals of his storied career. “All four lines played well in the first period and we need to do the same in the next game and the rest of the series.”

Game 2 of the best-of-seven NHL series is Sunday in Tampa.

Czech defenceman Michal Kempny, with the first of the game and his first of the postseason, and Lars Eller, of Denmark, also scored for Washington, a team playing its first NHL semifinal series in two decades.

The Lightning are in the Conference final for the third time in four years but it didn’t look like it Friday as they pulled starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy at the end of the second period with the score 4-0.

Steven Stamkos, on the powerplay, and Ondrej Palat scored goals in the third period for the Lightning, who had an easier time getting to this stage of the playoffs by eliminating Boston and New Jersey in just five games each.

Stamkos said there were no excuses for coming out flat in Game 1 after a long layoff between series.

“For whatever reason they were quicker to the pucks, better disciplined and better on special teams and that is a good recipe for success,” Canadian forward Stamkos said. “We were a step behind and you can’t do that against a quality opponent at this time of the year.”

Goaltender Braden Holtby made 19 stops for Washington, facing a meager two shots in the first period from the lackluster Lightning team.

Washington dethroned the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in six games to advance to the final four.

“We just carried it over from the Pittsburgh series,” said Beagle. “Obviously we wanted to go after them in the first period.

“We tried to take it to them in their building and carry that momentum throughout the game.”

The Lightning had a highlight-reel goal disallowed with seven seconds left in the first that would have tied the game. Russian forward Nikita Kucherov took a long pass at the blueline and broke in alone and then, as he was falling, somehow chipped the puck over a sprawling Holtby.

Television replays clearly showed the Lightning had an extra skater on the ice which allowed Kucherov to get so open for the stretch pass. — AFP