When Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin flipped a puck over Dwayne Roloson with less than a minute remaining, Verizon Center erupted; Ovechkin had tied the game at 2-2, forcing overtime after 60 minutes of frustration.
But just 6:19 into overtime, Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier silenced the raucous crowd, beating Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth on a rush and giving his team a 2-0 series lead heading back to St. Pete Times Forum.
“It’s a tough loss, but give them credit,” Capitals winger Brooks Laich said. “They capitalized on their opportunities and on our mistakes. Down 2-0, but we’ve been in this position before and we’ve come back…we’re going to regroup and come back on Tuesday.”
Even though they dominated in shots on goal all game long, the Caps had a very difficult time getting pucks past Roloson. The power play especially had problems, going 0-for-5 and failing to generate many prime scoring chances.
“I thought we stuck with it,” said Capitals winger Mike Knuble. “Guys weren’t complaining on the bench or anything. We know we have the guys who can do it and it’s a question of executing it. Guys want to score. There’s frustration that they’re not scoring. We expect a lot out of power play.”
But it wasn’t just the Caps’ ineptitude with the extra man that caused problems. The Tampa Bay penalty kill has been remarkably stringent all postseason long, and it starts with the goaltending.
“The most important penalty killer is your goaltender, so that’s part of it,” Lightning Coach Guy Boucher said. “We also got lucky – that’s another part of it … Goaltender and luck had a lot to do with it today.”
Tampa Bay did have some luck – their second goal deflected off Capitals defenseman Mike Green into the goal – but played strong defense all game and weathered each wave of Washington offense. When they had chances, they took advantage, something Washington failed to do.
But Tampa Bay can’t continue to take penalties and give Washington so many chances to grab the lead.
“In the long run, it feels like it’s going to hurt us,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “You can’t keep taking this many penalties. They put pucks on the net and Rolie had to make couple of key saves for us.”
Overall, though, Tampa Bay was able to hang out despite the last-minute goal and find a way to capitalize in overtime. It was a frustrating night for Washington, who now has to regroup on enemy ice.
“It’s playoff hockey and [Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne] Roloson played real well and the team played pretty well in front of him,” Capitals center Jason Arnott said. “We’ve got to hand it to their goaltending tonight. He played extremely well…It’s a long series. We’re not out of it yet. We’ve got to stay positive and keep moving forward.”
Washington now will have to head to Tampa down 2-0, needing a win in a crucial Game 3.
But after Sunday’s game, players were optimistic, drawing upon their experience in 2009: that year, the Caps were down 2-0 to the New York Rangers and came back to win the series in five games. Laich also referenced the Bruins’ comeback just last round against Montreal.
And even though his tying goal wasn’t enough, the Capitals’ captain still believes in his team.
“Well, the series is not over,” Ovechkin said. “We’re going to go there and going to have to win two games and it’s going to be hard. We have to win.”