1. The start of Saturday night’s game between the Capitals and Tampa Bay was delayed thanks to a beam of sunlight that filtered through the Acela Club and directly into the face of Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop in his crease. The Sun Monster that so torments outfielders at Nationals Park had apparently migrated to Verizon Center. No matter. A brief five-minute delay and some closed curtains fixed that problem. But Tampa Bay still had to play the game. And that didn’t go too well – for a while. And then it turned horribly for Washington, instead.
A pair of four-goal leads – 4-0 and 5-1 – disappeared and the red-hot Caps only escaped with two points thanks to a game-winning overtime goal from defenseman Mike Green in a wild 6-5 victory. In a frustrated, bewildered locker room players tried to explain how a game they were dominating – a 20-6 shots advantage through the first period and a 4-0 lead early in the second – almost slipped away. The Lightning had 40 shots by night’s end. According to STATS, the last time Washington blew a four-goal lead in any game was Dec. 11, 2006 against Pittsburgh. The Caps lost that one 5-4 in a shootout.
“Tomorrow we’re gonna wake up and we’ll have our two points and that’s all that matters in this scheme,” said Green, still visibly annoyed at himself for being on the ice for three goals against. “But we have to learn from this. We can’t let situations like that happen. They used to call us Cardiac Kids for a reason and we showed that tonight.”
Green didn’t mean that in a complimentary way. His team even in the glory days was known for heart-stopping 6-5 games. They spent two years trying to get away from them. But too often this season Washington has struggled to hold on to leads honestly earned. It happened early in the year in road games at Toronto and Ottawa in the third period. They almost coughed up one in Florida last Saturday when a 4-1 third-period advantage was trimmed to 4-3. This was even worse – though handing Tampa Bay an extra point does little harm given their place low in the Eastern Conference standings.
Still, words like “terrible” (Green) and “embarrassing” (Alex Ovechkin) were used to describe the end of this one. Richard Panik, Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell all scored in the third period for Tampa Bay – the last goal coming with just 2:35 remaining. It would have been a devastating loss.
“I’m not sure what exactly happened, but at this point of the season getting two points is what we’re gonna take out of that,” defenseman Jack Hillen said. “Sometimes those games are the hardest games to play in and you saw it. We had a little bit of a letdown. So I think we’ve been playing good enough hockey where we’ll definitely look at it. But you just got to throw it aside.”
2. Washington is now 14-3 against the woeful Southeast Division, which includes the three worst teams in the Eastern Conference. The win carried the Caps (23-17-2, 48 points) a step closer to a division title and an automatic No. 3 seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. There are just six games remaining in the regular season and Washington is now four points clear of the second-place Winnipeg Jets (21-19-2, 44 points). The two teams do meet once more on April 23 at Verizon Center.
But four of the Caps’ remaining six games are at home. They are even with the No. 6 Ottawa Senators (21-14-6, 48 points) and remain ahead of the No. 7 New York Islanders (21-16-5, 47 points) and the No. 8 New York Rangers (21-16-4, 46 points). Right now the division is what matters, though.
Washington has won seven games in a row and is unbeaten in its last nine. It is also 11-1-1 since March 21 and 21-9-1 since a dreadful start to 2013 (2-8-1). Okay – that’s unsustainable over an 82-game season. There are no trips to Los Angeles or Chicago or Detroit this season. It’s still pretty damn impressive. They just didn’t feel great about this one.
3. Five different Caps scored against the Lightning on Saturday. Troy Brouwer started things off with his power-play goal at 13:45 of the first. Mike Ribeiro had a sweet backhand pass out of the corner to set that up. Brouwer now has 16 goals on the season, which is second on the team. Next up was Hillen – having himself a hell of a month with a new baby boy, a house being built in his native Minnesota, a just-signed contract extension and, oh by the way, two goals and four assists in his last eight games. The latest goal came as a trailer off a rush. Jay Beagle found him as he drove towards the net.
Ovechkin followed with his NHL-best 27th goal, beating a pair of Tampa Bay defenseman to a loose puck and easily deking Bishop for the score. That pushed him ahead of Lightning center Steven Stamkos, who remains stuck on 26. Ovechkin, through 42 games, ranks fifth in the NHL in scoring (46 points). He’s far from the only reason the Caps are winning – but that’ll play from the captain. Those three first-period goals from Brouwer, Hillen and Ovechkin came in a span of 5:37 with :37 between Hillen and Ovechkin’s tallies.
“I think I have pretty good chances before that,” Ovechkin said. “I score goal and we get the lead 3-0 and feel pretty good. The second period we start very well they just – good for them they don’t stop playing. They have pretty good players out there like Stamkos, Lecavalier, St. Louis and they can make a play and they can save the game like this. It’s good lessons for us.”
4. Maybe the prettiest goal of the night was the give-and-go between center Mathieu Perreault and Jason Chimera in the second period to make it 4-0 at 2:41. Chimera has had his share of bad luck this season, a frustrating response to a career-year in 2011-12. The veteran – a third-line staple for Washington since 2009-10 – was even a healthy scratch on April 4 in a game against the Islanders. His only other goal this season came March 17. Chimera just hasn’t produced.
Too late to do much about that now except hope that some renewed confidence carries over into these final six games and the playoffs. For his part, Perreault’s two assists gave him four multi-point games on the season. He stands at five goals and 10 assists on the year. He had a second one on Eric Fehr’s goal at 5:26 of the second period. The third line is starting to show signs of life after a barren stretch in recent weeks. That was goal No. 8 for Fehr in what continues to be a nice comeback season. He added a secondary assist on Green’s game-winner.
“I think we talked about it a couple of days ago, I’m glad that those guys have been rewarded because they’ve played real good hockey for us lately,” coach Adam Oates said. “I think we talked when Joel Ward had his goals, and Chimmer got one tonight, Perry had a couple of great plays, Fehrsy got one, and they deserve it, they’ve been playing very good hockey for us.”
5. One theory running through the locker room after – down 4-0 and 5-1 and out of the playoff race, Tampa Bay had nothing to lose. That led to a version of hockey that was, shall we say, unconventional. There was a level of pressure applied that left Washington reeling.
“One thing that I just thought of was when a team does get behind that much, they play so reckless, and you’re not trained to handle that kind of reckless team,” Oates said. “The ‘D’ jump in at crazy situations, and you’re not really trained to do that. If the game’s a more normal game at the start, they wouldn’t have played so crazy. But I’m not trying to use that as an excuse, it’s just hard sometimes. We leaked a little oil and fortunately we got it back.”
Added Hillen: “We were talking about it, we were trying. But they were playing loose, too. They were doing a lot of different things that could have backfired on them. They could have given up some more goals, too.”
6. Bonus note: Congrats to Ribeiro on his 600th career assist. That’s a real nice milestone for a player who has spent much of his career pegged as an offense-first second-line center in Montreal and Dallas – an above-average, but not indispensable player. But he’s a huge reason Washington’s power play is ranked No. 1 in the NHL this season. The pass to Brouwer was a thing of beauty, if different from how the two connected on the power play in Thursday’s win over Carolina. Ribeiro now has 29 assists after he had the primary on Green’s winner. Only Nicklas Backstrom has more (38). Ribeiro also has 12 goals. But 22 of his points have come with the man-advantage.
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