|Ovechkin celebrates his first PPG in 13 weeks Friday night.|
The Capitals got off to a tremendous start, clearly desperate for a win, firing four shots on Roloson within the first minute of the game, but the ageless tender kept the away side off the board. Despite this early pressure, however, it was the Lightning who broke through first when Teddy Purcell took a pass at the top of the right circle and ripped a shot past a screened Semyon Varlamov for a 1-0 Tampa advantage at the 3:21 mark. The Caps were not phased, however, and continued to pepper Roloson with leather after lengthly zone pressure, but again could not put one through. At the 8:21 mark, Matt Hendricks finally took things into his own hands with a bullrush of Roloson that earned him an interference minor; however the Lightning tender fired punches at Hendricks, which meant 4 on 4 play. The Capitals then took advantage of the open ice with a nice goal of their own. After collecting the puck off the boards in the attacking zone, Mike Green made a nice move to get away from his man and then fired a shot in front; Nicklas Backstrom was there for the rebound and the Caps had their equalizer at the 9:09 mark. Following an epic bout between Hendricks and Steve Downie, however, Jason Chimera took a penalty, but the Caps killed it off with excellent efficiency and some good saves from Varly. As the period wore on, the Caps tried to break through again firing more pucks on Roloson, but could not find the back of the cage. John Erskine took another penalty late in the frame, but nothing came of it and the first period ended tied at 1.
In the second, the Capitals were awarded a power play 1:17 mark, but were their own worst enemies with poor shot selection and decision making and nothing came of their man advantage. The Caps continued to press the Lightning, and were rewarded when Brooks Laich roofed a backhand in front after great work by Mike Knuble down low and a nifty dish from Mathieu Perreault to go ahead at the 6:38 mark. The Capitals were given another power play after the goal, and took advantage of their golden opportunity as Alex Ovechkin tallied his first goal with the man advantage since October 30th with a beautiful snap shot from the half wall. As the period continued, the Lightning pressured the Capitals with good forecheck presence but could not get off many shots, however Varlamov had to be great to keep his team in the lead by 2. But Matt Hendricks took a high-sticking penalty at the 17:27 mark and sent the Caps to the penalty kill again. This time, however, the Capitals would not be as lucky as before, as Brett Clark converted with only 40 seconds left in the period with a tip in front to take some serious momentum out of the Caps' sails before the period ended with the Caps ahead 3-2.
In the third, the Bolts came out hard as they tried to get back in the game, generating good pressure with their forecheck and in transition as the Capitals became a bit sloppy with the puck. However, Varlamov stood tall for his mates and continually thwarted the Tampa attack with some great saves in front off of deflections and rebounds. Steve Downie took a penalty to give the Caps another power play at the 7:11 mark of the frame, but the visiting side was again unable to convert despite some good shots in close. After five more minutes of back and forth chances and excellent play by both goaltenders, Nicklas Backstrom cashed another rebound in front for his second goal of the game and a critical insurance marker for his men at the 12:22 mark. The Lightning, now pushing on all cylinders, cranked up the offensive pressure in a desperate attempt to equalize over the last seven minutes, but were continually denied by great shot blocking on the part of the Caps' defense and good stops by Varlamov and could not get one through. Jason Chimera iced the cake with an empty-netter inside of one minute, and the Caps skated out of Tampa with their biggest two points of the year.
The offensive studs have woken up! Or so we hope. Ovechkin and Backstrom were excellent tonight, showing their chemistry with some great passes, and both had great finishes for their goals. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: if the Caps get those two men going, they are going to be very, very hard to beat with their new defensive system. This was a huge step in the right direction.
Semyon Varlamov was good when he had to be. He had a huge stop on Martin St. Louis about halfway through the first period that kept the game at 1-0; it would have been very hard for the Caps to come back down 2-0 in Tampa Bay. He could not be faulted on the first goal as he was screened, and even though the second was a bit questionable, I'll give him a pass. Varly continued his impressive run over his last 11 games and deserves the starters reigns for now.
This was an unbelievably huge game for the Caps to come away with. With this win, the Capitals now have momentum heading into their clash with the Penguins on Sunday, which they would have definitely lost if they had fallen tonight. Now, with 29 games left, the Caps are only 3 points back of the Bolts in the Southeast and are well within striking distance for their fourth consecutive Division banner.
The Capitals are flying back to DC tonight and will practice tomorrow morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex at 11:30 AM as they prepare for Sunday's primetime showcase with Pittsburgh, which is another enormous game, Crosby or no Crosby. That game is schedule for 12:30 P.M., so you will have plenty of time to watch the Super Bowl.