“Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.”
So said Michael Corleone in “The Godfather, Part III,” but Caps fans might have been thinking that late last night after the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-3, at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
It was a night for the stars to shine and the secondary scorers to contribute. It got started early for the Caps when Alex Ovechkin finished some fine work by Tom Wilson behind the Lightning net, taking a feed from Wilson to the right of goalie Ben Bishop and sliding the puck under the Bolts’ goalie to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 40 seconds into the game.
Then the teams started exchanging goals. Brain Boyle scored on a deflection for the Lightning at 13:49, but the Caps got that one back just 34 seconds later when Matt Niskanen wired a one timer past Bishop’s blocker on a power play to restore the Caps’ one-goal lead.
In the second period, Steven Stamkos scored on spin-o-rama forehand from the slot to tie the game at two apiece just 47 seconds in. A little less than four minutes later, Brooks Laich gave the Caps the lead once more with some deft stick work in close, pulling the puck from below the goal line to his forehand at the post and swatting it past Bishop to make it 3-2 at the 4:36 mark.
The Caps finally got a two-goal lead mid-way through the third period when Troy Brouwer, who had been foiled on an earlier breakaway, beat Stamkos down the middle on a Caps rush, took a feed from Marcus Johansson, and flipped the puck past Bishop at 10:52 to make it 4-2, Caps.
After that it was a bit of window dressing. Valtteri Filppula made it a one-goal game with 3.2 seconds left. Ovechkin got the last one and his second of the night with less than a second left for the 5-3 final margin.
-- The two goals for Ovechkin ended a four-game streak without a point. It was his fifth multi-goal game of the season and 90th of his career.
-- Backstrom’s two assists give him ten helpers in his last nine games. It was his 91st career multi-assist game.
-- Marcus Johansson ended a four-game streak without a point with two assists. In four-plus NHL seasons, Johansson now has 15 multi-assist games.
-- The Caps shut the Lightning out on the power play on three tries. Part of the success was holding Stamkos without a power play shot on goal. Tampa Bay managed only three shots on goal in six minutes of power play time.
-- On the other side, the Caps did manage a power play goal (Niskanen), but it was their fourth straight game and eighth in nine in which they had two or fewer power play opportunities.
-- Stamkos was a minus-3 for the Lightning, his worst plus-minus for a game this season. We anticipate much media angst over this development.
-- Ovechkin getting seven shots on goal is not a big deal. John Carlson getting seven shots on goal is. It was the fifth time in his career Carlson recorded seven or more shots on goal in a game (for the record, Ovechkin has 176).
-- Brooks Laich’s goal made it three goals in four games. It is the first time he pulled off that feat since scoring three in four games, March 10-16, 2012 against Boston, Toronto, and Winnipeg.
-- The win makes it a three-game winning streak for the Caps, tying their longest of the season (November 7-11 against Chicago, Carolina, and Columbus…score one for the “Three C’s”). Caps fans might be forgiven for thinking it has been a long time since the Caps won three in a row on the road, but they did it last April, beating the Islanders, Blues, and Hurricanes in the dying days of the 2013-2014 season.
-- Too bad about that last Tampa Bay goal in the last seconds. It was their third against goalie Braden Holtby for the night and their third even strength goal. If marked the first time since November 4th against Calgary (four ES goals allowed in a 4-3 overtime losss) that Holtby allowed three or more even strength goals in a game. It broke a 12-game streak allowing two or fewer even strength goals.
In the end…
Any way you slice it, this is a good win. The top line produced, the secondary scorers contributed, the penalty killers did their job, and Braden Holtby was strong in net when he had to be. And, it is now a three-game winning streak, all of them on the road, giving the Caps a respectable 8-5-1 record away from Verizon Center. It also allowed them to climb into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Boston Bruins and holding a game in hand.
The job now is to bring that good effort home for games against the suddenly resurgent Columbus Blue Jackets (four straight wins) and these same Tampa Bay Lightning, who will have this game fresh in their memories. The Caps are pointed in the right direction and got good efforts in this game from players from which they need good efforts on a consistent basis. Getting Brooks Laich engaged just helps that much more. Maybe they’re on to something here.