The Capitals earned another hard-fought two points Sunday night. Their rally to victory over Tampa Bay pushed them into the top spot in the Southeast Division. There were several times in the game when it looked like it wasn’t going to go their way, but a 4-2 victory satisfied the faithful inside Verizon Center.
Head Coach Adam Oates elected to rest Braden Holtby on this night, the tail-end of a back-to-back set of games against the Florida-based teams. Michal Neuvirth would go to work in goal for the first time since March 16 and he was very effective with 28 stops.
New Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper chose Ben Bishop to guard his goal and the towering (6’7”) netminder was valiant in defeat with 34 saves.
The Lightning would quiet the home crow quickly in this contest. Only seven seconds after Steve Oleksy was whistled for interference, Vincent LeCavalier brushed home his eight goal of the year on a smooth feed from Martin St. Louis to post the 1-0 lead.
Bishop made 13 saves in the opening period to keep his team on top. LeCavalier had two other outstanding chances to score but was thwarted by Neuvirth.
The Caps pulled into a tie when Alex Ovechkin deflected a long wrist shot from Jack Hillen over the glove of Bishop at 3:14 of the second period. Hillen, a proud new papa to baby boy Knox, would celebrate a couple of assists tonight.
Lightning winger Alex Killorn scored one of the nicest goals on the night to take the lead back for the Bolts. He used his speed to fly past a defender, then deked Neuvirth on his backhand before sliding the puck between the goalie’s leg pads.
The Caps got stronger as the game progressed. The sluggish first period start was no factor in the latter half of period two.
John Carlson wired a slapshot over the catching glove of Bishop from 40-feet away to knot the score at two apiece. Bishop said afterwards that the puck glanced off defender Eric Brewer and ramped into the top corner.
Joel Ward gave a first-star performance tonight at both ends of the rink. Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perrault sent Ward down the left wing one-on-one against Lightning forward Nate Thompson. Ward executed a perfect “push-through” move to get the puck to his forehand before zipping a shot past Bishop at 16:21 of the second period.
Ward was injured in the third period, sacrificing his body to block a cannon-like slapshot from Sami Salo. He hobbled off the ice and did not return to the game, but afterwards told reporters he will be on the trip to Montreal.
The Lightning had several quality chances to tie in the third period and they had one of the league’s most dangerous scoring threats around the net guarded by Neuvirth. Steven Stamkos fanned on one of his notoriously unstoppable one-timers with Tampa Bay threatening in the third.
With the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, St. Louis dished a nice pass to the goalmouth which Stamkos failed to connect upon from point-blank range.
The Caps would salt the game thanks to their red-hot captain. Ovechkin would score the team’s first open-net goal of the season at 19:55 of the third, and did so despite interference from the Lightning bench as he broke down the wing. Alex has scored goals in 10 of his last 12 games and with 25 for the season he ties Stamkos for the overall NHL lead.
Washington will meet Montreal at Bell Centre Tuesday night. It will the first time the two teams have faced each other since January 24th in Washington. The game begins at 7:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Plus.