Harder Than It Had To Be – Washington carried a six-game winning streak into Saturday night’s game with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the last divisional matchup between these two teams after 19 seasons of dwelling in the same division. One of the hallmarks of the Washington’s winning run was its stinginess at even strength. The Caps had allowed a grand total of seven even-strength goals in 365 minutes of hockey during the life of their six-game winning run.
Although the Lightning dented the Caps and goaltender Braden Holtby for five even-strength goals in a span of just 33 minutes and 30 seconds on Saturday, Washington extended its winning streak to seven with a 6-5 overtime win that was much more interesting than it needed to be from a Washington perspective.
The Caps roared out to a 4-0 lead early in the second, but they gave it all back and needed Mike Green’s power play game-winner in overtime to claim the two points that looked as though they were safely in the sack half a game earlier.
“Guess there is no really easy explanation,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of his team’s inability to protect a four-goal lead. “First of all, [the Lightning is] a good team. And everything went our way in the first period. You lose a little bit of momentum because it was a little too easy, you get a little flat and all of a sudden, here they come. You start sinking yourself and before you know it, it’s happening pretty fast.”
Washington had multiple early opportunities to take control of the game, and it eventually did so. Tampa Bay took four minor penalties in the game’s first 12:06, and Washington had its fair share of offensive-zone time and strong looks on the ensuing power plays.
The Caps failed to convert on the first three of those chances, and Tampa Bay netminder Ben Bishop made a couple of strong stops to keep the game scoreless in the first half of the first.
A good power play is a weapon even when it doesn’t score. Spending power play time in the attack zone erodes energy from the penalty killers and can soften up an opponent for later in the game. The Caps entered Saturday’s game with a 25% success rate on the power play, and they maintained that rate when they scored on their fourth man advantage of the first frame.
Alex Ovechkin pushed the puck around the back of the Lightning net to Mike Ribeiro, who slid a no-look, backhand feed to Troy Brouwer in the slot. Brouwer had just missed on a similar chance earlier in the game, but he didn’t miss on this one. His one-timer beat Bishop to put the Caps on top 1-0.
It marked the second straight game in which the Ribeiro-to-Brouwer combo supplied the Caps with their first goal of the game on a power play.
“We dug ourselves in a hole in the first period,” laments Lightning winger Martin St. Louis. “Obviously, we had a tough time getting going. We took a too many men [penalty], a four-minute high-sticking [penalty], I think [the Capitals] had eight minutes of power play [time] in the first period.
“It’s not just them scoring goals, it’s about them feeling good about themselves, their good players are getting a lot of ice time at that point and a lot of touches, and that carries over to five-on-five. They become tougher to play against, they got a little swagger from it but I thought we answered in the second and the third [period].”
Washington then went to work at even strength. Late in the period, Washington’s fourth line won a puck battle in its own end and broke out with numbers, and with Jay Beagle carrying the puck. Beagle, whose backhand breakaway bid was denied by Bishop earlier in the period, pulled up and hit the late guy – defenseman Jack Hillen – as the latter cruised into the high slot. Hillen put a wrist shot over Bishop’s glove to make it 2-0 with just 1:15 left in the first.
The Caps struck again less than a minute later when Ovechkin outraced Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman to a puck that Caps center Nicklas Backstrom lofted into the Lightning end. Ovechkin then deked Bishop and slid the puck into the yawning cage for a 3-0 Washington lead. That play started when a John Erskine bodycheck shook the puck loose for Backstrom near the Washington line.
The Caps had 30 shot attempts and 20 shots on goal in the first; the Lightning had nine shot tries and six on net.
“It’s one of those games,” says Lightning coach Jon Cooper, “you take eight minutes of minor penalties in the first 10 minutes of the game against the number one [power play] in the league and a lot of our top guys are sitting on the bench and all their top guys are on the ice, it’s tough.
“I thought when we came out of that just down one [goal], I thought momentum was going to swing our way and we were flat for the rest of the period.”
Mathieu Perreault’s sublime setup on a tic-tac-toe play on a 3-on-2 rush made it a 4-0 game of the second; Jason Chimera tapped that one behind Mathieu Garon, who relieved the beleaguered Bishop to start the second. Chimera’s goal was the Caps’ third in a span of just 3:56.
Just 74 seconds after Chimera’s goal, Tampa Bay’s Richard Panik took a nice pass from Tom Pyatt and tucked it between Caps goalie Braden Holtby’s pads to make it a 4-1 game. Washington got that one back 91 seconds later when a patient Perreault held the puck in the slot long enough to pull Garon out of position, then fed Eric Fehr for an easy tap-in tally.
The Lightning came up with what would prove to be some key late thunder in the second, making it 5-2 when Steven Stamkos fed Martin St. Louis for a wrist shot over Holtby’s glove at 18:47 of the middle period.
At 4:23 of the third period, Panik netted his second of the night when he used the heel of his stick to deflect a Radko Gudas shot from the right point through Holtby to carve the Caps’ lead to two.
Tampa Bay pulled to within a goal when longtime Washington nemesis St. Louis struck again, this time putting back a rebound of a Victor Hedman blast from the slot with 11:43 remaining.
Late in the period, the Lightning wore Washington down in its own end and drew even on a Teddy Purcell backhander from the slot with 2:35 left.
Having scored four unanswered goals, the Lightning took momentum into overtime. Caps forward Marcus Johansson swung it back in Washington’s direction when he made a power move to the net late in the second minute of overtime. Tampa Bay center Vincent Lecavalier did the only the he could do to prevent Johansson from scoring, he slashed the speedy forward’s stick, breaking it in half before he could get a shot off.
That transgression put the Caps on a 4-on-3 power play. Washington cranked up a couple of shots, but could not convert. With 1:06 remaining on the advantage, Ribeiro came out to take an offensive zone draw. The puck remained near Ribeiro’s feet, and Fehr jumped in to help win the draw and get the puck to Green. Green pushed it to Ribeiro, who dished it back to Green. The Caps’ defenseman wound up and blasted a laser of a shot from between the circles that sailed over Garon’s glove.
“Tomorrow we are going to wake up and we have our two points and that’s all that matters,” says Green. “And this game’s put away, but we have to learn from this. We can’t let situations like that happen. They used to call us the Cardiac Kids for a reason and we showed that tonight.”
Washington’s seven-game winning streak is its longest since it opened the 2011-12 season with seven straight victories. Saturday night’s win moves the Caps four points ahead of the idle Winnipeg Jets in the chase for the last-ever Southeast Division crown. Both the Capitals and the Jets now have six games remaining.
Game Over Green – Green supplied the game-winner in Thursday night’s win over the Hurricanes, his first game-winning goal in more than 18 months. Two days later, he scored his next game-winner – the 16th of his NHL career, tied for third all-time among Caps defensemen – against the Lightning.
Green’s overtime game-winner against the Bolts was the seventh of his career; only Ovechkin (12) has more in Capitals history.
Saturday’s goal was Green’s 10th of the season, putting him one behind Montreal’s P.K. Subban for the league lead among defensemen. Green leads all NHL defensemen with eight even-strength goals on the season.
Shining Stars – Saturday’s game featured the league’s top two goal scorers in Ovechkin and Stamkos and two of its top three assist men in Backstrom and St. Louis.
Ovechkin vaulted into the league lead with his first-period goal; he has 27 tallies to Stamkos’ 26. Although St. Louis scored twice, he did not collect an assist. Backstrom had one helper, his 38th of the season. He now trails co-leaders St. Louis and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby by three assists.
Stamkos didn’t score a goal, but his assist moved him to within four points of Crosby for the league’s scoring lead. St. Louis also has 52 points on the season.
With a goal and an assist, Ovechkin raised his point total to 46, tied for fifth in the NHL. Backstrom is tied for seventh in the circuit in scoring with 44 points.
Seven Up – Brouwer’s power play goal in the first period was his seventh extra-man tally of the season. That matches his single-season career high, established in 2009-10 and matched in 2010-11. Brouwer was with the Chicago Blackhawks in both of those seasons.
With 16 goals on the season, Brouwer is tied for 15th in the NHL. He is tied for 11th in the league in power play goals.
The 600 Club – With his first-period power play assist on Brouwer’s goal, Ribeiro recorded the 600th point of his NHL career. With 22 power play points this season, Ribeiro is tied with Ovechkin for second in the NHL in power play scoring, one point behind Subban.
The 300 Club – Fehr skated in the 300th game of his NHL career on Saturday against the Lightning. He notched his second goal in three games and his fourth multiple-point contest of the 2012-13 season. Fehr's assist on Green's game-winner was his first power play assist in the NHL since Jan. 8, 2011.
O From The D – Defenseman were involved in half of Washington’s six goals on the night, and they combined for two goals and two assists in the game.
Caps blueliners have had a hand in 14 of the team’s last 25 goals. Washington defensemen have scored a total of 24 goals in 42 games this season after tallying 30 times in 82 games in 2011-12. Half of Washington’s goals from the defense this season have been scored in the team’s last 11 games.
Steady As She Goes – Washington’s power play has been consistent all season, and it can lay claim to not only being the league’s most efficient power play, but also its most consistent.
The Capitals’ extra-man unit went 2-for-5 on Saturday to bump its rate on the season up to 25.5%.
Washington’s longest drought without a power play goal this season was an 0-for-12 drought in late February and early March, the shortest drought of any of the 30 NHL clubs this season.
Saturday Night Special – Although he allowed five goals on the night, Holtby ran his career record in Saturday night games to 9-1-1 in 11 career starts.
Holtby has 19 wins on the season, tied for fifth in the NHL and just two off the league lead.
Divisional Dominance – Washington is 14-3 against Southeast Division opponents with one divisional game left to play, against Winnipeg on April 23 at Verizon Center.
The Caps dropped each of their first two games of the season against Southeast foes; they’ve won 14 of 15 against divisional opponents since.
Down On The Farm – After a 3-2 loss in Providence on Friday, the AHL Hershey Bears continued a busy weekend in New England on Saturday with a visit to Manchester to take on the Monarchs. Hershey suffered a second straight one-goal setback, falling 4-3 to the Monarchs.
The Bears spotted their hosts a 3-0 lead in the game’s first 20 minutes. In the second, the Bears closed the gap on goals from Joey Crabb and Nate Schmidt. Schmidt’s goal was his first as a professional; he now has a goal and three points in four games since joining the Bears earlier this month.
Manchester pushed its lead back to two with a goal midway through the second, but the Bears again closed to within one when Julien Brouillette tallied late in the second.
The Bears outshot the Monarchs 14-5 in the third and 40-21 on the night, but they could not get the equalizer. Hershey goaltender Dany Sabourin made 17 saves in a losing effort.
With just four games remaining in the regular season, Hershey and Manchester are tied for ninth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings, four points shy of the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Bears visit the Pirates in Portland on Sunday.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals will attempt to close out their best-of-seven Kelly Cup playoff series with the Greenville Road Warriors on Sunday in Greenville. The Royals own a 3-1 lead in the series with all three victories coming via the shutout route.
By The Numbers – Perreault notched his fourth multiple-point game of the season. He had six assists in four games against Tampa Bay this season … Green led the Caps with 25:53 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with nine shots on net and 14 shot attempts … Erskine led the Caps with eight hits … John Carlson led the Capitals with five blocked shots … Hedman led the Bolts with 27:09 in ice time … St. Louis led the Lightning with six shots on net.