Two-goal leads have proved to be rather vexing situations for the Washington Capitals of late. Two-goal advantages have evaporated in losses to New Jersey (Dec. 21), Anaheim (Dec. 23) and Minnesota (Jan. 4), costing the Caps valuable standings points and leaving them with a 1-3-3 mark in their previous seven games coming into Thursday night’s battle with the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Times Forum in Tampa.
Heading into the game’s final minute against the Bolts, the Caps were on the verge of frittering away yet another two-goal advantage. Having owned a 3-1 lead over the Lightning at the start of the second period, the Caps had squandered that advantage in allowing the Bolts to record even-strength strikes in both the second and third periods to make it a 3-3 game.
Washington managed to pull the game out of the fire on an Eric Fehr goal in the final minute, enabling the Caps to take a 4-3 decision from the Lightning.
“It felt good to get that lucky bounce – if you can say so – to get two points,” says Caps forward Marcus Johansson. “It felt like it’s kind of been bouncing the other way and for the other team slightly so it was a big win for us. We have to maybe learn to play with that two-goal lead. But it’s tough and then the game is fast. But we have to take the good things and work on them and get better at the bad things.”
Tampa Bay lit the lamp first at the 4:08 mark of the first frame. Lightning winger (and Czech Republic Olympian) Ondrej Palat picked off a pass from Caps forward Troy Brouwer near the Washington line. Palat was able to spring Tyler Johnson on a breakaway, and the Tampa rookie pivot went high glove on Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer, netting his 12th goal of the season to put the Bolts up 1-0.
Washington responded less than three minutes later. Caps defenseman Karl Alzner chipped the puck up the wall in his own end, past pinching Bolts’ blueliner Matt Carle. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin collected it and blazed down the right side on a 3-on-2 rush with linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Fehr. Ovechkin slid a perfect pass to Fehr in the middle of the ice, and the Washington winger expertly used the Lightning defender as a screen and fired a wrist shot that beat Tampa Bay goaltender Anders Lindback.
The Capitals were benefactors of the game’s first power play when Lightning center Nate Thompson was jailed for tripping Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov at 8:49 of the first. With 12 seconds remaining on that man-advantage, the Caps finally cashed in. Brooks Laich passed the puck to Mike Green at center point, and the Caps’ defenseman let go of a wrist shot from there. Joel Ward and Mikhail Grabovski both got a piece of it en route, and it was Grabovski who was able to redirect it past Lindback for a 2-1 Washington lead at 10:37 of the period.
With 1:10 left in the first, Tampa Bay pivot Valtteri Filppula was whistled for a hooking violation that gave Washington a late power play opportunity. The Caps moved the puck around with precision, getting some good looks. Brouwer narrowly missed on a bid from the diamond spot, and John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom were both able to get shots on net from long range.
As the final seconds of the first ticked off the clock, Backstrom passed to Johansson just off the right post. Johansson pulled out in front and stuffed the puck through Lindback to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead with 8.9 seconds remaining in the first period.
Tampa Bay turned the tides of momentum and possession on the Caps in the early portion of the middle frame. Backstrom’s hooking minor just 36 seconds after the stanza’s opening puck drop gave the Bolts their first power play chance of the evening, and the Lightning was able to teed up four shot tries, getting two of them through to Grubauer.
The Lightning was able to maintain momentum after the power play; it had 10 of the first 12 shot attempts that the two teams combined for leading up to the first television timeout of the second at the 6:29 mark.
Tampa Bay’s Tom Pyatt blocked Fehr’s shot attempt and quickly moved the puck up to Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. Hedman passed to winger B.J. Crombeen, who drove down the right wing wall. Crombeen gained the zone and launched a wrist shot from the right dot that eluded Grubauer to make it a 3-2 game with 13:15 left in the second period.
“On the second goal,” explains Oates, “we gapped up just a little too far and couldn’t get back. Great shot by [Crombeen]. It got them back in the game.”
For Crombeen, it was his first goal of the season and his first in a span of 57 games. His previous tally came on March 5, 2013 against New Jersey.
The Caps had a third power play chance early in the third, but it was Tampa Bay that nearly tied the game. Johnson broke the puck out of the Washington end, moving up ice with speed and with Palat riding to his left on a 2-on-1. Johnson made a slick pass to Palat, but Grubauer did the splits to get over and thwart Palat’s shorthanded bid with his right pad.
“That’s a huge, huge save,” says Oates. “I thought in the second half of the game both goalies played really well. It was a big save by Grubi when we needed it again.”
Tampa Bay came at the Caps in waves for portions of the third period as it vied for the tying goal. The Bolts managed to draw even after winning an offensive zone draw and working the puck back to Carle at the left point. He fired a shot that Palat managed to tip past Grubauer to even the game at 3-3 with 5:30 remaining in regulation.
That set the stage for Fehr’s late heroics. As the clock wound down toward the final minute, Fehr took another fine feed from Ovechkin and shot from the slot, only to have Lindback make the stop. An Orlov shot was blocked seconds later, and the Caps’ defenseman adroitly kept the puck in the zone on his backhand at the Tampa Bay line. Orlov moved the puck to partner Green at the right point, and he let it fly toward the cage. Fehr was in front, and he managed to get a piece of it and tip it past Lindback with 51.5 seconds left.
“I wasn’t happy with the shot I got off there,” says Fehr, of his first shot on that sequence, the one that Lindback stopped. “I was pretty disappointed. But to be able to score, that will get me some rest tonight. I would have stayed up [awake] on the other one.”
The Caps held on the rest of the way to take two much needed standings points.
Washington played well during the life of its’ four-game losing skid, and it put together another good performance against a young, swift and opportunistic Lightning team.
“I thought all of our lines played well,” says Oates. “Ovi could have had three [goals] early, Fehrsie had a bunch [of chances] and Grabo had a bunch. All the lines I thought contributed tonight in terms of getting their opportunities. They stayed together better.
“We hemmed [the Lightning] in on the forecheck and we gapped up. We talked about it. They’re a very fast team. You’ve got to be confident in the offensive zone because otherwise they’re going to come. I thought we did a better job of that.”
An Icy Situation – Just prior to the start of Thursday’s game, Oates and Caps general manager George McPhee were seen conferring with on-ice officials in front of the Washington bench. Soon after, Lightning coach Jon Cooper and general manager Steve Yzerman also joined the conversation, which related to the adverse condition of the ice near Washington’s goal crease.
“We were just talking and trying to make it an even playing field for both sides and [discussing] how we would do that,” relates Oates, “and we talked about obviously splitting. Because we get that end twice in the game it wouldn’t be fair to us, so that’s why we ended up splitting all three periods. And I thought that was a great decision by the refs and the GMs.”
The two teams agreed to switch ends at the first whistle past the 10-minute mark of the first period, and to re-evaluate the situation at the first intermission. It was decided that the procedure would be repeated for both the second and third periods as well.
“They ended up doing a great job on it,” says Oates. “It was ugly, and you don’t want to have to postpone the game because of it. I’m glad they fixed it, and Grubi said he had no problem.”
Four Score – It took until the 60th minute of the game to do so, but the Caps notched as many four goals in a game for the first time in seven contests. The last time Washington went more consecutive games without scoring more than three goals was the first 11 games of last season. The Caps went 2-8-1 during that spell.
Blueline Bonanza – Four different Washington defensemen earned assists in Thursday’s game, with Green collecting a pair. A Caps defenseman had a hand in all four of the team’s goals against the Bolts.
Doubling Up – Fehr enjoyed the third two-goal game in his NHL career on Thursday. The last time he netted a pair of tallies in a game was on Feb. 14, 2013, also against the Lightning in Tampa Bay and also in a 4-3 Washington win.
Fehr now has 10 goals and a dozen points in 27 career games against the Lightning. He has scored more goals against Tampa Bay than any other opponent during the course of his 340-game NHL career.
The first two-goal game of Fehr’s career also came on the road, in the Caps’ 3-1 triumph over the Penguins in Pittsburgh in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic.
Powering Up – Johansson’s goal was his seventh of the season and his sixth on the power play. Coming into the 2013-14 NHL season, Johansson had a total of five power play goals in 183 NHL games. He has exceeded that figure in 43 games this season.
The fourth-year forward entered 2013-14 with 15 career power-play points, and he now has 16 extra-man points this season.
Heating Up – With two goals in Washington’s 5-3 loss to the Wild in Minnesota on Saturday night and a pair of helpers in the win over the Lightning on Thursday, Green has recorded consecutive multiple-point games in consecutive contests for the first time in nearly four years.
The last time Green notched multiple points in consecutive games was when he had two assists on consecutive nights on Feb. 11-13, 2010 at Ottawa and St. Louis, respectively, in Washington’s final two games prior to the 2010 Olympic break.
The 200 Club – Green’s assist on Grabovski’s first-period goal was the 200th helper of the Caps’ defenseman’s career.
Green is the sixth Washington defenseman to record 200 or more assists in a Capitals sweater. He was preceded by Calle Johansson (361), Scott Stevens (331), Kevin Hatcher (277), Sergei Gonchar (272) and Larry Murphy (259).
The 300 Club – With his assist on Fehr’s game-winning goal, Green recorded the 300th point of his NHL career in his 473rd career game in the league. Green is the sixth Capitals defenseman to reach the 300-point level in a Capitals sweater, trailing only Johansson (474), Stevens (429), Hatcher (426), Gonchar (416) and Murphy (344).
Man Down – Tampa Bay lost defenseman Radko Gudas to a lower body injury sustained late in the first period. Gudas logged 6:22 on nine first-period shifts but did not play thereafter.
By The Numbers – The Capitals had nearly as many shots blocked (18) and nearly as many shots miss the net (19) as they managed to get on the net (20) … Carlson led the Caps with 26:08 in ice time; he was the only Washington skater to log over 22 minutes in the game. Carlson also led the Caps with five shots on net, accounting for a quarter of the team’s total of 20 on the night. Carlson also paced the Caps with three blocked shots … John Erskine led the way with five hits for Washington … Ovechkin led the Caps with 10 shot attempts, but he was able to get only two of them on net. Three were blocked and five more missed the mark … Eric Brewer led the Bolts with five hits … Eleven of Tampa Bay’s 18 skaters blocked at least one shot.