WASHINGTON — Down, two games to none, in the N.H.L.’s Eastern Conference finals after losing twice at home, the Tampa Bay Lightning got a lift from three All-Stars.
Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman combined for three goals and four assists on Tuesday night, sparking the Lightning to a 4-2 victory in Game 3.
Washington still holds a 2-1 series lead in its first conference finals in 20 years and will host Game 4 on Thursday.
In the first two games, in Tampa, Fla., the Capitals shut down the Lightning, who had the best record in the East in the regular season. But Stamkos, Kucherov and Hedman helped the Lightning to a 3-0 lead early in the second period that Washington could not overcome. Tampa Bay never trailed despite being outshot, 38-23.
“The goal is to win a championship, but you can’t look too far ahead,” Stamkos said after the game. “We’ve made it a series. That’s what we came in here tonight to do. We’ll be happy about getting ourselves back in the series, but not satisfied.”
Hedman got the primary assist on the first two goals, both of which came on power plays. He fed Stamkos and set up a one-timer from the left circle with 6 minutes 7 seconds left in the first period. The second goal looked similar, except that it came on a Hedman pass to Kucherov in the right circle 1:50 into the second period.
Hedman then sent a wrist shot past Washington goalie Braden Holtby from the edge of the left circle for a 3-0 lead less than two minutes later. It was Hedman’s first goal of the playoffs, but he has 10 assists.
He extended his playoff scoring streak to eight games, a franchise record. Stamkos said the Lightning often leaned on Hedman, a finalist for the Norris Trophy, given to the league’s best defenseman.
“He helps on penalty kills and power plays; he is a perennial Norris guy,” Stamkos said. “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. You can see we all followed suit.”
Hedman helped steady a penalty-killing unit that struggled in the first two games, allowing three goals on seven Washington power plays. The Lightning shut down all three Washington power plays in Game 3.
Hedman said the Lightning needed that combination of success on the power play and killing penalties.
“I’m more satisfied with the play we played on the P.K. today,” he said. “For us to get two goals today and shut them down on the P.K. is big. We’re going to need to keep that going.”
The 6-foot-6 Hedman, 27, caused trouble all over the ice, blocking two shots and leading the Lightning in ice time.
“For me, it’s about being effective in all ends of the ice and trying to be a difference-maker every time I step on it,” Hedman said. “We can’t pat ourselves on the shoulder. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper said his team’s top key players responded when the Lightning needed them to during postseason play.
“You think of Kucherov and Stamkos, those guys leading the charge,” Cooper said. “When we’ve needed them in the big games — Game 4 in the Boston series, Game 4 in the Jersey series, Game 3 in the Washington series — those guys have delivered. They come when you need them.”
Two other All-Stars helped out. Brayden Point scored the fourth Tampa Bay goal, and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves. Vasilevskiy rebounded after giving up 10 goals in the first two games and showed the form that made him a Vezina Trophy finalist, especially when the Capitals pressured early in the first period and later in the third after pulling Holtby.
Brett Connolly and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the two Washington goals. Kuznetsov finished with 12 shots on goal while Alex Ovechkin added nine; those two combined for more than half of the team’s 38 shots.
Cooper thought his team’s checking made a big difference in Game 3, and he wants more of the same going forward.
“When you have a really good team like they do across the way, if you’re going to give them open ice to make their plays, they’re going to kill you,” Cooper said. “They did it for two games.”
The Capitals once again were without their top center, Nicklas Backstrom (right hand injury). Coach Barry Trotz had said he was optimistic Backstrom would return to this series, but he has missed four straight games.
Trotz does not want a repeat performance from his team on Thursday. The Capitals will need to contain the Tampa Bay All-Stars.
“We were just off a little bit,” Trotz said. “You can’t be off in this game to have success. We will be better next game. We have to be better.”