Sounds like you’re in for a pleasant night, or so you would think, if you were a Washington Capitals fan watching the home team run out to that 3-0 lead after 20 minutes. It would be even more pleasant when the Caps extended that lead to 4-0 less than three minutes into the second period. The Lightning chipped away methodically, though, and they caught the Caps with less than three minutes in regulation, tying the game at 5-5. But the Caps sent their fans home happy, if a little worse for wear, as Mike Green scored 2:59 into overtime, beating the Lightning, 6-5.
The Caps started their three-goal flurry in the first period with a special delivery from Brouwertown. Troy Brouwer took a feed from Mike Ribeiro at the edge of the right-wing circle and fired a shot across his body and past goalie Ben Bishop on the long side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.
Five minutes later, the Caps added to their lead when Tampa got caught in their own end. It started when Matt Hendricks got tangled up with Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman along the wall. B.J. Crombeen exercised poor judgment and went after Hendricks, and with Hedman down and Vincent Lecavalier caught deep after he went to the net for a pass that never came, the Lightning had only two men back – only one of them a defenseman – to defend a four-man Capitals rush. And a textbook rush it was. Jay Beagle carried the puck down the right side, Aaron Volpatti charging down the middle to occupy Dana Tyrell. That left space into which defenseman Jack Hillen could jump, and he did just that, taking a pass from Beagle and rifling the puck past Garon before Eric Brewer could get across.
Then, with just 38 seconds left in the period the Caps struck again. It was a product of quick transition as Nicklas Backstrom got things started by picking up a loose puck in the Washington end and starting out down the left wing. Backstrom tried to complete a long cross-ice pass to Alex Ovechkin, but it was nicked along the way by Alex Killorn. The effect was to change the vector of the puck so that it was sliding free into the Tampa Bay zone. Alex Ovechkin sped around beat Victor Hedman to the puck, skated around him, and backhanded the puck past Garon just before the period ended, the Caps now up by a 3-0 score.
The second period started the way the first frame ended, with a Capitals goal. Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault executed a perfect give-and-go on a 2-on-1 break, Chimera giving, then going, then getting a return pass from Perreault for his second goal of the season.
At that point Caps fans were counting their two points and looking forward to their half-price pizza. Tampa Bay had other ideas. Richard Panik scored for the Lightning just 1:14 after the Chimera goal tomake it 4-1. Eric Fehr scored just 1:31 later when he converted a nice turnaround pass from Mathieu Perreault from the top of the crease to make it 5-1. But as the second period was coming to a close, Martin St. Louis got one back for Tampa Bay, one-timing a pass from Steven Stamkos past goalie Braden Holtby.
The third period would be all Tampa Bay. Richard Panik scored at 4:23, followed by St. Louis again at 8:17. Teddy Purcell slid a puck on a backhand through Holtby with just 2:35 left to tie the game at 5-5 and send the game to overtime.
In overtime, Vincent Lecavalier took a slashing penalty on Marcus Johansson to prevent a scoring chance 1:53 into the extra session. That gave the Caps a 4-on-3 advantage and that much more space with which to work with the man advantage. And it was left up to Mike Green quarterbacking the power play from the top of the diamond in front of goalie Mathieu Garon. Green surveyed his options, looking for Eric Fehr on his left, then send the puck down to Mike Ribeiro at the goal line. Ribeiro fed it back to Green, and seeing no other option, Green called his own number, firing a slap shot between Tom Pyatt and Victor Hedman and past Garon for the game-winner.
-- The goal by Mike Green – his tenth of the season – drew him to within one of Montreal’s P.K. Subban, who leads all defensemen in goals with 11.
-- The goal and an assist for Alex Ovechkin lifted him into the league lead in goal scoring, passing Steven Stamkos with his 27th goal, and into a tie for fifth place with Patrick Kane in points with 46. His nine shots on goal was one off his season high of ten set back on March 30th in a 4-3 Gimmick win over Buffalo.
-- The two-assist effort by Mathieu Perreault was his first multi-point game since going 1-1-2 in a 5-3 win over Buffalo on March 17th. His two assists represented his second multi-assist game of the season, the other coming when he had three on Valentine’s Day in a 4-3 win over these same Lightning.
-- With two assists, Mike Ribeiro is now 1-5-6 in six games since the trading deadline. He also happens to be a minus-3 in those games, though, including a minus-2 tonight.
-- Richard Panik had his best game of his brief 19-game career to date for Tampa. He had his first multi-goal game, his first multi-point game, tied a career high in shots on goal (four), and was a career high plus-4 in 15:32 of ice time.
-- The two power play goals extended the Caps’ lead in power play efficiency. They are now at 25.5 percent after going 2-for-5. Here is your interesting power play fact. The Caps are now 19-for-55 on the power play against the Southeast Division (34.6 percent) in 17 games. In 25 games against the rest of the East, the Caps are 18-for-90 on the power play (20.0 percent).
-- John Erskine was a heat-seeking missile tonight…eight hits in 20:38 of ice time.
-- We noted in the prognosto that Eric Fehr might be emerging from a points drought. His 1-1-2 night was his first multi-point game since going 1-2-3 in the Caps 4-3 overtime win over Boston on March 5th. He is 2-1-3 over his last three games.
-- Steve Oleksy has a pair of assists, the first time he turned that trick since his second game of the year with the Caps, a 7-1 win over Florida on March 7th. He now has nine assists in 22 games, which is a 34-assist pace over 82 games. That number would have put him in the top-15 among defensemen last season.
-- Mike Green had the game-winner and had seven shots on goals, but he was also on ice for three goals against. Karl Alzner was in the same boat as his partner, on ice for three goals against.
-- The Caps outshot the Lightning by a 20-5 margin in getting out to their 3-0 lead in the first period. They were outshot, 33-20 from that point on.
-- It could have been a lot worse for the Lightning in that first period. They spent 6:51 of the first 14:54 of the game killing penalties. They were lucky to get out of that with only one goal scored against them, that coming on the fourth power play of the period for the Caps.
-- Jay Beagle had 1:01 of power play ice time tonight. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, it is a big chunk of his total of 4:58 of power play ice time this season.
-- The win gives the Caps seven in a row, the first time they reached that mark since opening the 2011-2012 season with a seven-game streak. It marks the sixth straight season in which the Caps have had a winning streak of seven or more games. In addition to the two mentioned, they had a nine-game winning streak from February 26-March 15 in the 2010-2011 season, a 14-game streak from January 13-February 7 in the 2009-2010 season, a seven-game streak from December 23-January 6 in the 2008-2009 season, and a seven-game streak to close the 2007-2008 season.
In the end… There are two things to take away from this game, one good and one bad. Obviously, the good thing is getting the two points when it looked as if the Caps would leave at least one of those points on the table with poor play in the third period. The bad thing is that when a team is on a streak, good or bad, one can see the end of it before it happens. The Caps almost lost a game to a team with nothing to play for but pride. That is not an insignificant commodity, but the Caps do have a lot more to play for and should have shown a lot more urgency in their game in the third period than they displayed.
In that respect, this is what a team looks like when a winning streak might be coming to an end. They are going to have to play better and for the full 60 minutes when they face Toronto on Tuesday in what will be the start of a rough end of the season schedule. The Leafs are 5-1-1 in their last seven games and will be a stiffer test than the Lightning, even if they will be coming to Washington the night after hosting the New Jersey Devils on Monday. It’s time to put on the big boy pants and raise their game another notch. This is not over yet.