The Washington Capitals managed to salvage their homestand on Thursday night, scoring a dramatic 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning inside Verizon Center. Trailing late in the game again, the Caps found a way to tie off the stick of Marcus Johansson and win it off the stick of Alex Ovechkin. Keith Aucoin also scored for the home side, who benefited from 24 saves from Tomas Vokoun as well. With their win, the Capitals are somehow only two points behind the Florida Panthers for first in the Southeast Division, though the Cats do have a game in hand. It’s progress.
The Capitals got off to a hot start, pressuring rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski, who was making his first career NHL start, into five saves in the first 150 seconds of the game. After that early onslaught, however, the offensively strong Bolts began to come at Tomas Vokoun in waves, and it was only the strong play of a goalie playing for the first time in over two weeks that kept the game tied. Just before 15 minutes had gone in the period, though, the Caps were given their first power play of the game.
The DC power play was very pretty, with a lot of nice passes, but they could not convert despite almost a full minute of zone time. Washington finally broke through with three minutes left in the period, however, when a long blast from Karl Alzner was tipped past Tokarski by Keith Aucoin in front. Despite a mad scramble by the Lightning late in the period with Vokoun out, the Caps still headed into the dressing room with a 1-0 lead.
Carrying over momentum from their strong finish in the first period, the Lightning pressured the Washington cage for some long stretches early in the frame but they were not able to score. After a bad hit in the corner by Dennis Wideman gave Tampa Bay their first power play of the game, however, it only took 27 seconds for the away side to take advantage of a wide open Ryan Malone in front, who equalized for his team with twelve and a half minutes left in the frame. Washington was called for another penalty soon after when Mathieu Perreault was boxed for high-sticking, but managed to kill that one off.
Despite being able to kill off that penalty, however, the Caps only had one shot on goal in the period after thirteen minutes of play and were getting dominated. They took another penalty with 2:14 left in the period, and again the Bolts converted, with Teddy Purcell knocking one home in front for a 2-1 lead. The period closed with the Lightning still on top.
Washington earned a power play less than a minute in to the third period and had a chance to gain some positive momentum, but again muffed their chance and allowed the Bolts to kill the minor off. As the period continued, Lightning coach Guy Boucher began to implement his full 1-3-1 neutral zone forecheck, clogging up the offensive attack that the Caps tried to generate. Just past the middle part of the period, however, the Caps really began to press, and had a 11-0 shot advantage in the frame as late as the 15 minute mark, but Tokarski would give them nothing.
With less than four minutes left though, the Caps finally drew even. Eric Brewer mishandled the puck at his own blue line, coughing it up for Marcus Johansson who skated in alone and slipped it through the five hole. Regulation closed with the game still 2-2, and in overtime, both goaltenders made some sparkling saves in order to keep the game going, including an absolute robbery by Tokarski of Alex Semin. Eventually, though, it was Alex Ovechkin who got his second game winner of the homestand to take a 3-2 win.
Midway through the second period, Mike Green laid a cheap and unnecessary hit on Brett Connolly behind the Capitals’ net in which he lifted his elbow and initiated contact with the head. It was a very dangerous and dirty play that will almost certainly warrant supplemental discipline from Brendan Shanahan, especially considering Green’s prior history, which includes a suspension in January of 2010. Those are the type of hits that need to be out of the game.
Tomas Vokoun was solid in his return to game action, making several brilliant saves, particularly in the first period, to keep the game in reach for his team, and then late as well. As I tweeted during the game, it’s really a shame that this year the Capitals have a legit number one, elite goalie for the first time in ten years, and they probably are going to waste it.
Yes, yes, Alex Ovechkin has now scored two game winning goals in the last week. No, no, is Alex Ovechkin where he needs to be. Still, I won’t rain on the parade completely. He came up big when his team needed him tonight, and for that, I commend him.
The Capitals are next in action Saturday afternoon in Boston, where they will play a 1 PM matinee against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.