Roll Over, Roloson – For the better part of 55 minutes tonight in Tampa Bay, it looked as though Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson would join the Montreal Canadiens’ Ken Dryden (1976-77) and the New York Islanders’ Tommy Salo (1996-97) as the only two netminders ever to whitewash the Capitals three times in the same season.
After taking a feed from defenseman Dennis Wideman at the Tampa Bay line, Semin lined up Bolts blueliner Brett Clark between himself and the net and wired one of his trademark wrist shots through Roloson and into the back of the net. The goal came at 14:28 of the final frame, and it was enough to get the Caps into over time and then a skills competition, an ending that was far, far beneath what a game of this caliber and this level of intensity deserved.
When you pick up the paper in the morning or hop online to look at scores, you’ll see Capitals 2, Lightning 1.
Each of Washington’s last eight wins has come by the narrowest of margins, and the Caps have now won five straight games overall. It’s the team’s second longest streak of the 2010-11 season; the Caps reeled off six straight wins from Oct. 30-Nov. 11.
Tonight’s game was the second time in the last week that Washington – which has already suffered a staggering total of nine shutout losses this season – was blanked into the late stages of the third period.
Washington didn’t lack for scoring chances; it had several prime opportunities to pull even in the game before Semin finally did the deed. Was Caps coach Bruce Boudreau worried that his players were squeezing their sticks a bit in an effort to avoid that 10th goose egg, and a third one at the hands of Roloson?
“I was more worried that Roloson was in a zone,” admits Boudreau. “I’ve played against him too many times and when he gets in that zone, no matter what happens, he’s impossible to beat.”
Boudreau also sensed that the Cardiac Caps had another rebound performance in them.
“I thought there was a calm confidence [among the Caps] that they were going to score a goal,” says the Caps bench boss, “but you never know when Rolie is in that kind of a zone.”
Tonight’s win over Tampa Bay raised Washington’s record to 7-17-4 in games in which it has trailed after the game’s first 40 minutes. Along with Dallas and the New York Rangers, the Capitals are tied for the most wins this season when trailing after two periods.
Semin, who missed the Caps’ last two games with Tampa Bay, finished the season with seven goals and nine points in just four games against the Bolts. He hung a pair of hat tricks on the Lightning this season.
Good In Goal – When the day started, the 2010-11 Capitals were the only team in NHL history with three goaltenders aged 22 or younger to record four or more wins in the same season.
When the day ended, the 2010-11 Capitals were the only team in NHL history with three goaltenders aged 22 of younger to record five or more wins in the same season.
Seeking his 22nd win of the season, Michal Neuvirth started in goal for the Caps against the Lightning. In the game’s first minute, Lightning forward Nate Thompson launched a shot that rocked Neuvirth’s cage, hitting him in the mask and knocking it off. The Caps goalie gamely tried to battle through it, but retired for the night after allowing one goal on seven shots in 20 minutes of work.
“Michal’s fine,” says Boudreau. “On the shot, some part of the metal on his mask went into his eye and he couldn’t get it out. But he got it out and he was fine after that. So he’s going to be okay.”
Enter Braden Holtby. Holtby had been out of action for a couple weeks after suffering a lower body injury during a shootout while playing for the AHL Hershey Bears in Toronto on Feb. 23. Recalled to Washington last week when Semyon Varlamov was sidelined with a lower body injury of his own, Holtby was expected to get a start at some point this week.
Instead, the 21-year-old rookie found himself coming in cold off the bench to replace Neuvirth. What’s more, his team was already in a 1-0 hole in a game that would decide which team ended the night at the top of the Southeast Division, and the Lightning was seconds away from going on its third power play of the night.
It’s never easy for a goaltender to go in cold in the middle of a game. When the goaltender is a rookie and the game is a late-season tilt for the top spot in a division, it certainly isn’t easier.
“I think it’s one of the tougher things to do,” says Holtby. “But you have so much adrenaline – especially at this level – when you get told that you’re going in, you usually feed off that. And then just hope for the best, try and battle as best as you can and hope that pucks hit you.”
The Lightning didn’t have any shots on goal in the final seven and a half minutes of the first frame, but they peppered Holtby right from the start of his stint. Tampa Bay ripped off nine shots in just over the first seven minutes in which Holtby was between the pipes.
Clearly, the Lightning was doing everything it could to test the rookie goaltender, but in putting so many shots on him so quickly – and not lighting the lamp behind him in the process – the Bolts actually helped Holtby to feel more comfortable.
“It was a huge key,” says Holtby of the early barrage of shots he faced. “The first shot I faced was when Stamkos put it off the post and out. I think that was a huge thing for me, because they thought they could just throw everything on net, and then maybe that would get by again. All you really want to do when you come into a situation like that is face a little bit of rubber and get into the game a bit. It’s fortunate, that’s what happened to me.”
“Right off the bat,” says Boudreau, “he comes in and there is a power play and I think they had three great chances. Gagne had a fabulous chance. When he saved that, I think his confidence just [rose]. You knew he was going to be on.”
Holtby’s first NHL appearance was a relief outing against the Bruins in November. He came into a tie game that night, and earned his first NHL win. Now, two of his five NHL victories have been relief efforts.
“It could have gone either way,” admits Boudreau. “If they had scored on that first or second shot, he could’ve said, ‘Oh man, it’s my first game back in three weeks. But it didn’t. He’s a competitive guy. That’s why we’re happy we’ve got three good young goalies.”
Holtby became the third different goaltender to earn a win for Washington over the Lightning this season. The Caps ended up 4-1-1 against the Bolts in the 2010-11 season series. Varlamov was 2-1-1 and Neuvirth and Holtby were each 1-0.
For the season, Holtby is now 5-2-2 with a 2.22 GAA and a .918 save pct.
Nicked Up – Caps center Nicklas Backstrom played in the 313th consecutive game of his NHL career on Monday in Tampa Bay, but he did not finish the contest. Backstrom left the game in the second period and was not on the bench the rest of the way.
Backstrom initially suffered an injury to one of his digits two weeks ago in a 1-0 win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
“He’s okay,” says Boudreau of Backstrom. “He wanted to come back. He just fell on his hand the wrong way. If you’ve ever had a sore finger or something and get it hit the wrong way, it gets pretty tender.”
Doing It For The Dads – Seventeen fathers and two brothers of Capitals players watched from a suite at the St. Pete Times Forum as their offspring/siblings took care of business against the Lightning to wind up the team’s fourth annual Mentors’ Trip.
Tonight’s win over the Bolts ran the mentors’ record to 7-1 on the four trips, and they’ve now witnessed seven straight victories.
Tonight’s win over Tampa Bay extended Washington’s road winning streak to five straight, and last year’s two road wins during the Mentors’ Trip also ran the Caps’ road winning streak to five at the time.
20/20 – Tonight’s win was the 20th for the Caps this season in games in which they surrendered the game’s first goal. Washington is now 20-16-4 in games in which it has fallen behind, 1-0.
Monday’s victory over the Lightning was also Washington’s 20th of the season in games decided by a single goal. The Caps are now 20-7-10 in their 37 one-goal games this season.
Powerless – The Caps were 0-for-3 on the power play against the Lightning. They’ve now gone six straight games without a power play goal, their longest streak of the season.
Washington is now at 43 games and counting since it scored more than one power play goal in the same game. That’s the longest such streak in franchise history. The Caps are 14-for-135 (10.4%) with the extra man in their last 43 games.
The Caps have been limited to two or fewer extra-man chances in 19 of those 43 games, and they’ve had just 14 power play tries in going without an extra-man tally in their last six games.
Back-to-Back, Jack – The Caps swept their second set of back-to-back games this season, doing so for the second time in exactly two weeks. Both sweeps have come on the road.
Washington took back-to-backs on a Sunday-Monday in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, respectively on Feb. 20-21, and they’ve now taken back-to-backs on a Sunday-Monday in Florida and Tampa Bay on March 6-7.
Renewing Acquaintances – For three seasons from 2007-08 through 2009-10, Caps center Jason Arnott was the captain of the Central Division’s Nashville Predators while Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer was serving as the captain of the Central Division’s St. Louis Blues.
Arnott was dealt to New Jersey over the summer, and then the Devils moved the veteran center to Washington a week ago in a trade deadline deal.
Brewer came to the Bolts in a Feb. 18 deal with St. Louis, so the two former Central Division captains are now divisional rivals once again, but in the opposite conference and on clubs that are competing for their division title.
Skills And Thrills – Tonight’s skills competition win over the Lightning was Washington’s first vs. Tampa Bay since Nov. 15, 2005 at Verizon Center. Tampa Bay had taken three straight in the interim.
By The Numbers – Washington is currently on pace for a 103-point season … The Capitals are 12-6-2 vs. Southeast Division opponents. The Lightning is 11-5-3 against the Southeast … Wideman paced all skaters on both sides with 28:02 in ice time on Monday … Ovechkin and Marco Sturm led the Caps with four hits each … John Carlson led the Capitals with four blocked shots … Dominic Moore paced the Bolts with five blocked shots … Nine different players took at least one face-off for the Lightning, and four of them didn’t win any draws … Vincent Lecavalier and Adam Hall led the Lightning with five hits each … Thompson led the Bolts with five of the team’s 28 shots on goal … The Lightning had 21 shots on goal in the game’s first 40 minutes, but had only four shots in the third period.
Martin St. Louis
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