Sloppiness is expected in the first game for NHL teams after the All-Star Break, and “sloppy” is unquestionably the best way to characterize Tuesday night’s tilt between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. Marred by turnovers and bad decisions, the game required extra time to reach a decision when Steven Stamkos scored at 2:45 to give the Lightning a 4-3 overtime victory at home.
Scoring for the Capitals were Matt Hendricks, Mathieu Perreault, and Troy Brouwer, and goalie Tomas Vokoun made 27 saves in the loss.
Stamkos’s goal marred a stellar late-game performance for Vokoun, who stonewalled Bolts captain Vincent Lecavalier a minute earlier in the extra frame. Lecavalier snuck behind his man and was all alone when he took a pass from Teddy Purcell in front of the net. Lecavalier toe-dragged to elude Vokoun’s initial kick save attempt, but the goalie stabbed out his glove to make the save and make an argument for save of the year.
With his strike, a rebound putback of a breakaway attempt by Martin St. Louis, Stamkos now has a league-leading 33 goals on the season.
Washington fought back from a two-goal deficit to tie the game up early in the third period on Brouwer’s 15th goal of the season. Brooks Laich harassed Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Gilroy into a bad turnover while skating out from behind the net, and Brouwer stepped into the loose puck for a quick wrist shot that beat goalie Mathieu Garon wide on the glove side.
With his marker, Brouwer breathed new life into a morose Capitals squad that looked out of sync for much of the game. Missing Alex Ovechkin, who watched from the press box while serving the second game of his three-game suspension, as well as center Nicklas Backstrom, Washington had trouble sustaining offensive pressure against the Bolts.
That didn’t appear to be the case late in the first period, when Hendricks put his team on the board with a highlight-reel goal. Trying to dump the puck into the offensive zone, Laich’s chip shot instead bounced off defenseman Victor Hedman and sat atop the right faceoff dot. Laich dove for the puck and tapped it to an onrushing Matt Hendricks, who whiffed on his wrist shot attempt. Refusing to give up on the play, Hendricks spun around for a backhand try and whipped the puck over Garon’s left shoulder and just inside the post.
Doubling down after the goal, Tampa Bay took advantage of the home tilt of the ice to turn things in their favor. Minutes after the Hendricks goal, Teddy Purcell put his team on the board at the end of a slick entry into the zone. Purcell was the wide winger as the Lightning crossed Washington’s blue line, and the winger eluded Perreault’s backcheck to score an easy tap-in goal from the far post on a pass from Steve Downie with at 18:50 of the first.
Guy Boucher’s squad then took its first lead of the game early in the second frame, when Martin St. Louis took advantage of a sneaky pick by linemate Lecavalier to break in unabated on Vokoun from the blue line in, beating the Czech goaltender between the legs with a slick backhand-to-forehand move.
Despite the intervening intermission, the goals by Purcell and St. Louis were just 135 seconds apart on the game clock.
Later on in the second period Tampa center Nate Thompson put the puck in the net twice in a span of just 2:08. Both times the Alaska native was positioned in the low slot and batted a centering pass from the end boards underneath the goalie’s pads.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, only the first instance resulted in a Bolts goal, with Thompson jamming Dominic Moore’s feed past Vokoun. The second time, Thompson was covering the net after winning a defensive zone faceoff, and accidentally swatted Perreault’s pass under his unsuspecting teammate Garon to negate the two-goal lead he’d given his team minutes earlier.
With the unlikely strike, his eighth of the season, Perreault now has five goals (including two game-winners) and seven total points in his past five games.
However, there would be no game-winner for Perreault or anyone else on the Capitals in Tampa. After Brouwer’s goal the team packed in the zone, clearly playing to earn at least one point by sending the game to overtime rather than go for the win. That complacency continued through the extra frame.
Prior to the start of Ovechkin’s suspension, Washington likely would have been glad to come away with at least three of six possible points in the stretch. Tuesday night’s result gave the Caps that third point in just the second game, but there’s no question Dale Hunter’s team could have, and should have, gotten more out of their effort.
CAPS NOTES: F Joel Rechlicz, called up yesterday from AHL Hershey, made his Washington Capitals debut. He took a grand total of two shifts, 1:49 TOI, and did not skate after the first period.
D John Carslon was on the ice for all four Tampa Bay goals.