On their best winning roll of the season, the Washington Capitals were almost too casual Saturday night against the Lightning. Needing every point they can muster in the Southeast Division race, the Caps looked like they were ready to blow the doors off the Lightning after only 20 minutes. When all was said and done, a Tampa Bay rally came up short and the home team squeaked out of Verizon Center a 6-5 winner in overtime for its seventh straight triumph.
After their first six minutes of power-play time fizzled, the Caps clicked for a PPG at 13:45 of the opening period. Mike Ribeiro sent a backhand pass to an open Troy Brouwer who was parked 25 feet in front of Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. Brouwer wasted no time pounding the puck past the Lightning keeper on the blocker side.
Jack Hillen would bump the lead up by one exactly five minutes later. The smooth skating defender jumped up into a 4-on-2 rush and slipped a wrist shot past the catching glove of Bishop.
Alex Ovechkin would take the NHL goal-scoring lead before the first period was done. The Caps captain got behind the Lightning defense, skating onto a lead pass from Nicklas Backstrom. As Bishop came out to challenge him, Ovechkin quickly deked to his backhand before sliding his 27th tally into a wide open goal.
That was the end of the night for Bishop, who gave way to NHL vet Mathieu Garon. Garon was welcomed into the contest by Mathieu Perreault and Jason Chimera. The two Caps forwards worked a pretty give-and-go passing play that led to a Chimera lay-up into a wide open goal.
The Lightning would get on the board next at 3:33 of the frame. The second period was a shooting gallery, including 21 shots, against Braden Holtby in the Caps net. Tom Pyatt set up Richard Panik with a pretty feed off a 2-on-2 break. Panik faked Holtby down to the ice before depositing a close-range backhand into the goal.
Perreault would make sure the host grabbed its four-goal lead back. He made a slick stickhandling move to get to the middle of the ice on a 3-on-2 break and then found an open Eric Fehr for a tap-in.
It was 5-1 for the Caps who had four goals on six shots in one spree. It appeared to be an open and shut case. But Tampa Bay had other ideas.
Steve Stamkos delivered the puck to Martin St. Louis late in the second. The crafty winger managed to chip a shot past the glove side of Holtby to end the second-period scoring review.
Trailing 5-2 after 40 minutes, the Lightning had life, but most people inside Verizon Center had this one chalked up in the win column for Washington. Not so fast.
Panik would strike again, at 4:23 of the third stanza, with a one-handed drag deflection which registered the third goal of the night for the Lightning.
St. Louis wasn’t done yet either. After Holtby made a terrific glove save on Victor Hedman, the high-scoring winger jammed home a loose rebound to make it 5-4 with still 11:43 to go in the final frame.
Teddy Purcell would tie it with only 2:35 left to play. The Lightning forward worked the puck into the slot on his backhand and cradled it around a fallen Holtby before slipping into an open cage.
Two different four-goal leads had been blown and the fans in Winnipeg, Manitoba could be heard screaming their approval, as this was a Washington game-in-hand on the Jets and a chance to open a four-point cushion in the division race.
In overtime, all is well that ends well. Marcus Johansson drew a slashing penalty on Vincent Lecavalier at the 1:53 mark of the extra session.
Skating 4-on-3, Mike Green would end the game with a lethal slapshot from 25 feet which sailed over the catching glove of Garon.
The Caps will bring a season-best, seven-game win streak with them to the rink on Tuesday. They will face the Toronto Maple Leafs, who beat Washington twice back in the first three weeks of the season. Caps Central begins our coverage at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.