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Feb. 14 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum
Time: 7:30 pm
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Washington Capitals (4-8-1)
Tampa Bay Lightning (6-5-1)
Two nights after a triumphant third-period comeback win over the Panthers in South Florida, the Caps continue their three-game road trip against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Washington opened the 2012-13 season here against the Lightning on Jan. 19, absorbing a 6-3 loss to the Bolts.
For the first time this season, the Caps come into a game with successive victories under their belt, both against the Florida Panthers. The Caps blanked Florida 5-0 on Saturday night at Verizon Center, then forged a late rally to come from a two-goal deficit late in the third period in a 6-5 overtime win over the Panthers in Florida on Tuesday.
“It showed a lot of character,” said Caps defenseman Mike Green of Tuesday’s win. “We needed a game like that. We’ve been down a lot of goals throughout the season this year and haven’t had that character shine through where we come back and win a hockey game. It was important that we did that, and we got that last night. We don’t want to be in those positions, but at least we showed we have the courage and the effort to come back.”
Washington’s Tuesday triumph wasn’t pretty; most of the goals against came after long periods of sustained pressure in their own end. A combination of bad bounces and defensive breakdowns put Washington in a 5-3 hole late in the third period, but the combination of secondary scoring and special teams play lifted the Capitals to victory.
Eric Fehr – one of the team’s most consistently effective forwards over the last handful of games – started the comeback when he netted his first goal of the season with 5:07 left in the third period.
Less than three minutes later, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin scored Washington’s second power play goal of the night to even the game at 5-5. The Caps’ penalty-killing outfit snuffed out a Florida power play that stretched into overtime.
Troy Brouwer scored the game-winner just 32 seconds into the extra session, taking a sublime feed from Nicklas Backstrom and getting behind the Florida defense to beat Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen.
Given the Caps’ struggles to gain points early in the season, they’re happy to have the two points, style points be damned. Ultimately, staging a late comeback win might do them more long-term good than a more run-of-the-mill variety victory.
“To be able to have that determination to battle back,” said Brouwer after the game. “Their fifth goal we feel was a pretty lucky one; a couple of good bounces and it goes in. And then we kept our heads up; we kept playing hard.
“Fehrsie gets his first of the year, which was good to see him get rewarded. It just lifted our spirits. Our power play has been good as of late and it pulled through. Even the penalty kill was strong. We’ve still got to tighten up a few things defensive-zone wise and assignment wise, but all in all we played a great game.”
The penalty-killing outfit was good, and it had to be. The Caps took three consecutive penalties in the first period, but killed them all to stay within striking distance. They then killed a Matt Hendricks minor in the middle of the third at a juncture of the game when a Florida goal would have put Washington down by three with less than half a period remaining. Then they killed a Mathieu Perreault minor that stretched into the early seconds of the overtime period.
“Penalties,” rued Caps coach Adam Oates after the Florida game. “We get penalties in the first period and that hurts us. That hurts your rhythm, hurts your flow. Guys don’t get to play and you’re using [other] guys too much. And we didn’t do a good job of putting the puck in the right places. That was one of the things I thought early that we could have done a way better job of doing.”
The Caps had a great night on special teams, scoring two power-play tallies on just three chances and killing off all five Florida power plays. Washington also won all four of its power-play face-offs and 11 of 12 draws while it was shorthanded.
“Face-offs are something we touch on every day,” says Oates. “And there were three goals scored off the face-off last night, two for and one against. Nick wins the draw at the start of the overtime. That’s a huge face-off. There are 15 seconds left in the 4-on-3, we kill it that fast and 30 seconds later, we get the winner. So if you want, it’s almost four goals [off the face-off]. You want the puck as much as you can so you can put it where you want to put it, and that makes them have to fight an uphill battle.”
Washington spent some time on Wednesday going over its Tuesday mistakes and practicing here in Tampa Bay.
“We’ve got to be good on the walls,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward. “I think getting pucks out is going to be key. We had a couple turnovers there against the walls that kind of cost us right inside the blueline [Tuesday]. They came in and scored on a couple of plays. Even if you’re tired, you‘ve definitely got to be good on the walls and get pucks out. Once you get pucks out it relieves a lot of pressure and you’re available to make plays.”
Caps goaltender Braden Holtby will get his third straight start on Thursday when Washington visits the Lightning.
With 3.83 goals per game this season, the Lightning leads the NHL by a wide margin in that category. The Bolts have scored more than half a goal per game more than the next closest team (Chicago, 3.31) in that department.
The Lightning scored four or more goals in six of its first seven games this season, but it has not done so in its last five games, all losses (0-4-1).
For much of the Lightning’s 20 years in the league, either the Caps or the Lightning has been up in the standings, and more often than not, the other team is down. But for the last couple of seasons, both teams have been playoff contenders. The Caps and Bolts faced one another in the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, adding a bit more fuel to the rivalry fire.
“We’ve built up a bit of a rivalry against these guys,” says Green. “They’re a good hockey team. We’ve been back and forth throughout the years. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing; they can’t take us lightly and we can’t take them lightly. They’ve got too many good players. It’s crucial we get these two points.”
While Washington was rebounding late in the game to snare a pair of points against Florida on Tuesday, the Lightning also staged a late rally. Tampa Bay’s late surge fell short; the Bolts lost a 4-3 shootout decision on home ice against Montreal on Tuesday. But given that the Lightning trailed by three goals with six minutes remaining in regulation, getting even a single point was a significant achievement for the Bolts.
Tampa Bay will be without top six forward Ryan Malone; he will be sidelined for a few weeks with a lower body injury.
When the Caps lost to the Lightning on opening night, they were playing Oates’s system for the first time after an abbreviated training camp. The first three games of the season were an adventure for Washington, but the Caps are a more respectable 4-5-1 in the 10 games since. They’re eager to face the Lightning again now that they feel more comfortable with Oates’ system.
“We didn’t get the start we wanted against these guys,” says Green of opening night, “but we’re getting more and more comfortable as the season goes on here. More than that, we really paid attention to detail and came together as a group of guys. I think that’s just as important as the structure of the system, the togetherness. We’re all on the same page now, and ready to rock. We’re going to be playing great hockey here on out.”
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