The Washington Capitals put a bit of space between themselves and the competition in the Southeast Division race tonight as they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2, at Verizon Center.
The Caps fell behind, not once, but twice, before coming back with three goals over the last 27 minutes to secure the win. The first time the Caps fell behind came less than two minutes into the game when Vincent Lecavalier redirected a Martin St. Louis feed for a power play goal just seven seconds after Steve Oleksy was sent off on an interference penalty.
That would be how the first period ended, but the Caps tied the game just 3:14 into the second period when Alex Ovechkin moved to the front of the Lightning net, opened the blade of his stick, and redirected a Jack Hillen drive past goalie Ben Bishop. The tie lasted barely three minutes when Alex Killorn took a lob pass from Lecavalier at the Caps’ blue line, swept around a flatfooted Hillen, and nudged the puck through the five hole of goalie Michal Neuvirth to restore the Lightning one-goal lead.
That would be the sum of Tampa Bay scoring, though. The Caps would tie the game once more when John Carlson fired a rocket from just inside the Tampa blue line over the glove of Bishop at 12:54 of the period. Less than four minutes later the Caps took the lead for good when Joel Ward carried the puck down his off wing, rushed around Nate Thompson, and snapped the puck past Bishop with just 3:39 left in the second period.
That would be it for the scoring until the game's last minute when Alex Ovechkin took a pass off the side boards from John Carlson, skated up the right wing, eluded a stick check from
Nate Thompson Alex Killorn (who did so from the Tampa Bay
bench, making the ensuing goal automatic), glided into the Lightning zone, and
sealed the win with an empty net goal for the final 4-2 margin.
-- The two goals give Ovechkin 25 for the season and tie him with Steven Stamkos for the league lead. The 25 goals in 39 games works out to a 53-goal pace per 82 games. More impressive, though, is that Ovechkin has 15 goals over his last 12 games. That is a 103-goal pace. In those 12 games there are only two in which he did not score a goal, both against the New York Islanders.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had another assist. That is nine in his last four games and 16 in his last 14 games (a 94-assist pace for those who keep track of those 82-game pace things).
-- Backstrom was a busy guy… an assist, a penalty, seven shots on goal (tying career high), three hits, and he won 13 of 20 draws.
-- Marcus Johansson had a four game points streak (1-6-7) ended in this game.
-- Jack Hillen had his first multi-point game for the Caps with a pair of assists. It was his first multi-point game since he had a pair of assists for the Islanders in a 4-3 win over Montreal on February 10, 2011.
-- 16 of 18 skaters for the Caps were credited with hits. Only Eric Fehr and Marcus Johansson failed to get one. Fehr sort of got one when he mixed it up with Martin St. Louis on a faceoff. And no, Marty did not reach up and punch Fehr in the knee.
-- Joel Ward recorded points on consecutive shifts in the second period, assisting on John Carlson’s goal, then scoring one of his own. His reward? Taking a shot off his knee in the third period and not returning to the game. Ah, but he did win first star of the game, though.
-- The Caps allowed a power play goal and did not record one of their own. This is the first time this season that they won such a game in regulation time (they did so in a 4-3 overtime win against Boston on March 5th).
-- The Backstrom-Ovechkin-Johansson line had 17 of the 38 shots on goal for the Caps.
-- The Caps had an odd symmetry in the game… 12 even strength shots in each of the first, second, and third periods.
-- Michal Neuvirth played his first game after an 11-game hiatus, and with his making 28 saves on the 30 shots he faced eased his save percentage over the .900 mark for the season (.902).
In the end, the Caps opened up a bit of daylight over the Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast Division, and they still hold a game in hand over the Jets. They, along with San Jose, have the best last-ten game records in the league (8-1-1). But now, it gets a bit harder. The Caps head to Montreal to take on the Canadiens on Tuesday night, and we will get to see if this is just a nice run that the Caps are on or if they are a bona fide playoff threat in the making.