April 2 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 3:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 3:00 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (40-31-8)
Tampa Bay Lightning (36-35-7)
Washington visits Tampa Bay on Monday night for its penultimate road game of the 2011-12 regular season. The Capitals are coming into Florida on the heels of a 3-2 shootout victory over the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center on Saturday night.
Saturday night’s victory pushed the Capitals two points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
If the Caps can gain a victory in Monday’s game against the Lightning and if the Florida Panthers gain two or fewer of a possible four points between now and Thursday’s game between the Capitals and the Panthers at Verizon Center, Washington will own control of its own destiny as far as the Southeast Division title is concerned.
Washington forged an early 2-0 lead in the first frame of Saturday’s game but the Caps weren’t able to hold it or build upon it. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth was on top of his game, stopping 39 shots in regulation and overtime to pace Washington to the win.
Saturday night marked the return of center Nicklas backstrom to the Washington lineup after an absence of nearly three months because of a concussion. Backstrom played nearly 20 minutes and didn’t seem overly rusty despite the long layoff.
Washington has squandered a lead of 2-0 or greater in three of its last five games, and it has been forced to the shootout three times in its last six contests.
“They’re tough to protect. Good hockey teams don’t let those teams back in, but also there is 40 minutes play when it is 2-0 and they’re going to get their opportunities. Ultmately, we found a way to win it. It is a bit of a concern, but I think we have the capability to pull out games when we need to.”
The Capitals also won their last road game in the shootout by an identical 3-2 score. That came on Thursday in Boston and it pushed the Caps’ record to 5-2-1 in their last eight road games.
This is the first time the Caps have endured consecutive games with a shootout conclusion in more than two years, since winning a 4-3 shootout decision over the Penguins at Verizon Center on March 24, 2010 and then following that up with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Hurricanes in Carolina the very next night.
Since the NHL opted to introduce to shootout as a means of settling tie games at the conclusion of overtime in 2005-06, Washington has had consecutive contests determined by the shootout five times. Until the last two games against Boston and Montreal, the Caps had never won both ends of consecutive games that ended in a shootout.
“It felt great,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green of Backstrom’s return. “It just wasn’t the same without him. And having him back, he’s just got that confidence. When he’s out there you can give him the puck and he’s going to do the right things with it. I think he played great coming back; I think it’s been two and a half, three months now. I’m very happy for him.”
Washington has had good fortune on the road in the state of Florida in recent seasons, but that has not been the case in 2011-12. The Caps posted a combined record of 13-4-1 in the regular season in games at Tampa and Florida over the last three seasons, but Washington is just 1-3-1 in those buildings this season.
The Capitals are 0-1-1 in their previous two visits to the Tampa Bay Times Forum this season. Washington has never gone through a season without earning at least one road victory over the Lightning.
The Bolts are coming off a 3-2 overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in Tampa. Despite winning that game, the Lightning was eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday.
Tampa Bay just finished off a 7-7-1 month of March with four of those seven victories coming in overtime or a shootout. The Lightning employed four goalies – Mathieu Garon, Dwayne Roloson, Dustin Tokarski and Sebastien Caron – in its 15 games last month, and the quartet combined to surrender 55 goals in those 15 games for an average of 3.67 per contest.
The Lightning has allowed an average of 3.4 goals per game on the season, far and away the worst mark in the NHL this season.
Caron started and won against the Jets on Saturday in his first NHL start since Nov. 10, 2006. The 31-year-old Quebec native stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced to earn his first victory in the league in more than five years.
On the offensive side of the ledger, the Caps will need to contend with Bolts sniper Steven Stamkos, who has scored 56 goals in 78 games this season. He has three goals and five points in the five previous meetings between the two teams this season.
Stamkos scored 12 goals and recorded 16 points in his 15 March games. He has 24 goals and 40 points in 30 games since the All-Star break.