Friday, November 26, 2010 9:29 p.m.
By Joe Beninati
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The Capitals were relentless today. They took command of this game very early against a division rival and never let them get off the mat. It was clinical, it was surgical, and it was a whole lot of fun to describe.
Tampa Bay rolled into Verizon Center on a five-game win streak, and had pulled within four points of the front-running Caps in the Southeast. They were no match for the home-team on this occasion. There are some games when Washington seemingly refuses to give the opponent any time with the puck. This was one of those nights. The Lightning's dangerous top line of Steve Downie, Steven Stamkos, and Martin St. Louis was smothered very effectively from the opening draw.
John Carlson gave the Caps the only goal they would need today with a wicked blast off a face-off win by Marcus Johansson. "MoJo" has't been winning a lot of draws in his rookie season, but this one went straight to Carlson who whistled a slapper right by Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith.
The first period was a demonstration on how to play suffocating defense. The Bolts barely tested Semyon Varlamov in the opening 20 minutes, as he was called upon for just four stops.
Period two was even more of a highlight reel for the home team. John Erskine, who played another strong game, hammered a long-range slapshot that appeared to hit Smith in the mask before hopping over the netminder, off his leg and into the goal. Brooks Laich was there to usher it in just in case.
After that Alex Semin took over the show. Johansson set him up with a beautiful saucer pass on a 2-on-1 break for the first of three "one-timer" goals in a row. Honestly, the pass was right out of the Nicklas Backstrom playbook.
Backstrom would be the distributor for Semin's next two bullets. Both would come on the power play after exquisite puck movement and patience.
The 'natural' hat trick (3 consecutive goals on the scorecard) was Semin's 3rd three-goal game of the year and second in as many tries against Tampa Bay.
Tom Poti would cap the final score at 6-0 with a wrist shot that banked in off Dan Ellis, who relieved Smith when the count was 4-zip.
Varlamov was solid when he had to be with 17 saves. He didn't need to be as spectacular as he was at times in Raleigh Wednesday because the team was so tight-knit in front of him today.
The Lightning absorbed a thorough beating tonight. They were riding a win streak the likes of which they hadn't seen since 2007, only to see Washington dissect them in that second period.
So much of the focus will be given to the offensive heroics, but perhaps even more impressive was the way the entire team neutralized a potent Tampa Bay attack.
We did some fact-checking after the final whistle tonight, and confirmed something that had never happened for the Caps, not since they entered the NHL in 1974. Today was the first time ever where one of their players recorded a hat trick in the same game the team recorded a shutout. Congrats to Semin and Varlamov and the entire squad for a job very well done!!