The Capitals rebounded nicely from their disappointing finish in Minnesota and collected two much needed points Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. It was an early one for the Capitals as they called it a night with just sixty minutes of play, after going into the extra frame six out of their last twelve outings.
With some shuffling of the lines, coach Adam Oates provided the spark needed to jolt his team out of their slump and propel them back onto the winning column. The change swapped centers Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson, moving Laich up the first line while Johansson was relocated to the third.
With Philipp Grubauer back in net, the Capitals took on a quick Tampa Bay team that sits in third place in the Eastern conference and second place in the Atlantic division, just two points behind the first place Boston Bruins.
Tampa Bay got on the board first on a breakaway goal from rookie centerman Tyler Johnson. Johnson, a Calder Trophy hopeful, put the puck over Grubauer’s catching glove when he received a pass from Ondrej Palat, who intercepted a Troy Brouwer misplay.
It would not be long before Washington would knot it at one. About three minutes later, a two-on-one developed for the Capitals and when Alexander Ovechkin threaded a perfect pass to Eric Fehr, he would make no mistake, notching his seventh of the year.
When Nate Thompson went to the box for tripping, the Caps would increase their lead to two as Mikhail Grabovski deflected a Mike Green shot over Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback’s catching glove.
Ovechkin and Grabovski would create quality opportunities midway through the first, testing Lindback, while Grubauer faced equal trouble from Palat and Johnson.
It would be Washington that converted on their momentum when Valtteri Filppula got whistled for hooking Nicklas Backstrom and gave the Caps a powerplay. As the Tampa Bay defense was absorbed with the daunting presence of Ovechkin, they completely neglected Johansson, who buried a wrist shot under the pads of Lindback. The Capitals would end the first period with three unanswered goals, exactly the kind of first period they were trying for.
The Caps would give up their only powerplay of the game to Tampa Bay early in the second when Backstrom was called for hooking Palat. The penalty killers escaped the two minutes without allowing a goal, a welcome improvement to their game of late, which has been peppered with a myriad of penalties and lackluster penalty killing.
Unfortunately, they would not preserve their 3-1 lead as BJ Crombeen capitalized on misplay by Washington and put a wrist shot top shelf on Grubauer after evading a defensive effort by John Erskine.
The Capitals dominated midway through the second as they skated in Tampa Bay’s zone for minutes in a powerplay-like sequence that left the Lightening squad gasping for air, forcing them to hook Ovechkin right at the goal mouth, a penalty that would go uncalled.
After a Tampa Bay goal was washed out on account of a kicking motion by Palat, Washington would leave the second period leading 3-2 but failed to maintain it in the third.
While the Capitals did not convert on their man advantage opportunity early in the third, as Matt Carle went to the box for roughing, Grubauer would rob Palat with his most outstanding save of the night, going to the splits to deny a shorthanded goal.
On the contrary, Ovechkin’s night consisted of nothing but continuous bad luck, as he whiffed on numerous quality chances only to wring the iron with a lazer midway through the third, failing to extend his team’s lead. Fortunately, Green and John Carlson both stepped up with dazzling defensive plays. Green made a perfectly timed dive to take away one of the best scoring chances of the third and Carlson had a game saving hand pass as he swatted the puck out of the crease to preserve the lead.
It would all be in vain, however, when Palat knotted the score with fewer than six minutes to go as he tipped in Carle’s shot and changed the direction drastically.
Finally, the good play from Washington combined with a little luck, something they’ve been lacking lately, when Fehr had a curl deflection on a Green wrist shot, redirecting the puck from gloveside to blockerside, leaving Lindback with no chance to stop the puck with fifty-two seconds left to play. As time expired, the Capitals picked up two points from the Lightening, snapping their four game skid.
This win not only gives the Capitals a jump back into third place in the Metropolitan over Carolina, but also gives them the confidence and reassurance they need to keep the upswing going. Nine of the next thirteen games are on the road for the Capitals, which means they’ll need to carry this momentum with them to pick up the points needed to compete in a Metropolitan division that has tightened up recently, with just five points separating second and sixth place.