It’s A Win – The Capitals earned a 5-2 road win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, but they didn’t play as well as they are capable of playing. Rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov made 26 saves to earn his third win in as many starts, but the high-powered Caps found themselves deadlocked 2-2 with the lowly Lightning after the first 40 minutes.
Washington was a bit sloppy with its breakouts, and several of its skilled forwards were way too cute with the puck near the opposition blueline. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau tweaked his lines and his blueline pairs heading into the third period, and the result was a three-goal outburst that left the Lightning in the lurch.
“The first two periods, we weren’t very good. It’s such a far cry from the way we played – I thought – in the first two periods against Florida [on Tuesday] where we were in their face and we weren’t allowing anything.
“Now we were swinging and circling and doing stuff that [you don’t want to see]. You want to get that consistency that we talk about. So I was probably a little more exasperated than normal. Then when you get two goals called back and they’re just hanging around long enough, I was getting a little worried.”
Not to worry. The Caps struck for three goals in a span of 10 and a half minutes to chalk up two more points in the standings.
50 – Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin notched his 50th goal of the season in the first period of Thursday night’s game against the Lightning in Tampa. After taking a pass from Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin spun past three defenders at the Lightning blueline and fired a wrist shot that eluded Tampa Bay goaltender Mike McKenna.
Tonight marks the third time in four seasons in the league that Ovechkin has reached the 50-goal plateau.
Nicklas Backstrom assisted on the goal, setting a single-season career high with his 56th assist of the season. Backstrom is now four helpers shy of recording just the sixth 60-assist season in Washington’s franchise history.
45 – Tonight’s win was Washington’s 45th of the season, marking the first time a Capitals team has won as many as 45 games since 1991-92. The Capitals now have 96 points on the season, two more than they recorded last season and the most any Caps team has managed since the 2000-01 club totaled 96.
The last Capitals team to win more than 45 games in a season was the 1985-86 club, which set franchise records with 50 wins (50-23-7) and 107 points. The 2008-09 Capitals have 18 more points on the table and can attain a maximum of 114.
The Chase – Tonight’s win enabled the Capitals to leapfrog the idle New Jersey Devils into second place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Caps are one point ahead of the Devils (96-95), who have three games in hand.
Boston squandered a 2-0 third-period lead and dropped a 3-2 decision to Los Angeles on home ice Thursday night. The point enabled the Bruins to become the first Eastern Conference team this season to reach the 100-point plateau. Washington has pulled to within four points of Boston for the top spot in the East. The Bruins have one game in hand on the Caps.
Green Means Go(al) –Mike Green’s goal in the final minute of the first frame was his 26th of the season. That gave him the most goals by any Washington defenseman since Sergei Gonchar netted 26 in 2001-02. Early in the third, Green scored again to surpass Gonchar for the second most goals by a defenseman in Caps history.
The club record for goals in one season by a defenseman is 34, established by Kevin Hatcher in 1992-93. Green’s 26-goal season is tied with Gonchar for the second most ever in a single campaign by a Caps’ blueliner, trailing only Hatcher.
Thursday’s pair of goals gives Green 48 for his NHL career, placing him eighth on Washington’s all-time list among defenseman. Hatcher sits atop that list with 149. More than half of Green’s career goals have come in 2008-09.
Swift Starts – The Caps got two goals in the first period on Thursday, one fewer than they scored in each of their first three meetings with the Lightning this season. Washington has yet to trail the Lightning in any of the four games between the two teams this season.
Power Surge – After being blanked on the power play – in just five chances – in their two previous games, the Caps netted a third period power play goal against the Lightning in going 1-for-5 with the extra man on the night.
The power play strike came off the stick of Michael Nylander at 7:38 of the third period. The goal was Nylander’s first since Feb. 2 at New Jersey. Nylander tallied twice that night against the Devils, and one of those goals also came on the power play.
Three Helpers – Caps winger Viktor Kozlov had a strong night with three assists. He made two brilliant plays to fight off defenders and feed Green and Michael Nylander, respectively, for third period goals. Kozlov now has a goal and six points in his last six games.
It was Kozlov’s first three-point night since Dec. 18 (two goals, assist) against St. Louis. Kozlov’s last game with three or more assists also came against the Lightning in this building. He had a five-point night (one goal, four assists) while skating for the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 25, 2005.
Bolt Beater Bradley – Caps right wing Matt Bradley earned the hardhat against Tampa Bay. He and linemates Quintin Laing and David Steckel were consistently gritty and greasy on a night when some of the club’s other forwards were a bit on the fancy side. Bradley was rewarded in the third when another strong shift resulted in him punching home his fifth goal of the season, and his first in 33 games.
Bradley’s previous goal came on Jan. 1 in a home game against the Lightning, a 7-4 Washington win.
Missed It – At 8:02 of the second period, Caps center Sergei Fedorov broke in on a breakaway, deked and was stopped by McKenna as he tried to slide the puck through the goaltender’s five-hole. Caps winger Eric Fehr charged in and the puck appeared to go into the cage after bouncing off him. Referee Greg Kimmerly blew the whistle and signaled “no goal.”
Believing the puck had crossed the line, the Caps used their timeout to stop play and get the officials to send the play for video review.
After an interminable delay, one of the officials announced to the crowd that the play resulted in “no goal, because the puck did not cross the line.” At which point the video board high above the ice here at St. Pete Times Forum showed a replay of the play, a replay that clearly showed the puck crossing the line.
“I think the call was, Kimmerly blew the whistle before when he lost sight of the puck,” said Boudreau. “The puck was definitely in. It had nothing to do with the skate. I don’t think it was the right call. I don’t know what to say. I think they made a mistake. But what are you going to do?”
Streaking Against The Bolts – Tonight’s win was the Capitals’ ninth in succession over the Lightning, the longest winning streak by either club in the all-time series between the two teams.
Taking On Tampa Bay – For the second time in as many visits to St. Pete Times Forum, the Capitals installed a rookie goaltender between the pipes and came away with a convincing win.
On Feb. 14 the Caps came to town and took a 5-1 decision behind a 30-save effort from 20-year-old Czech goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Tonight, they won a 5-2 victory with Varlamov in goal.
Man Down – Prior to Thursday’s game, we learned that Caps center Boyd Gordon would be lost for the next 2-3 weeks because of a broken finger. Gordon sustained the injury in the second period of Tuesday night’s game in Florida when a Panther’s shot rang of his hand during a Washington penalty kill. Washington recalled Laing from AHL Hershey to replace Gordon on the team’s fourth line.
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Martin St. Louis
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