As Yogi Berra used to say, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.
The Washington Capitals, looking to get healthy on a swing through the Sunshine State, jumped out to a 4-1 lead over the home Tampa Bay Lightning midway through the third period. But in 2013, these Caps don’t do anything easy. It took a few nervous minutes at the end, but the Caps held on to a 4-3 win over Tampa, stretching their season-high winning streak to three games and finally escaping the NHL’s basement, moving into a three-way tie for 11th in the conference with 11 points (5-8-1).
The Caps were paced by Eric Fehr’s first two-goal game since 2009 and Matthieu Perreault’s career-high three assists.
The Caps got out quickly on Troy Brouwer’s power play goal on a nice feed from Perreault just a few moments in. The marker was Brouwer’s team-leading seventh of the season and it was a thing of beauty. Nicklas Backstrom corralled a pass from Mike Green along the half-wall and found Perreault behind the net. Perreault one-timed it to Brouwer in the low slot and Brouwer’s one-time got past Matthieu Giron.
Not quite halfway through the period the Lightning tied it up. A breakdown on defense led to Martin St. Louis stuffing one under Braden Holtby. St. Louis separated himself from Jason Chimera along the goal line and got two or three whacks at the puck while several Caps defenders did little but watch.
The Caps retook the lead in the second period. Joel Ward beat Matt Carle to a loose puck behind the Lightning goal and tapped it to Perreault, who bounced it off Garon right to Eric Fehr, who hit the wide open net for his second goal of the season. It was the fourth line’s fourth goal in the last three games and Fehr’s fourth point in the same time frame. It also marks the first time Fehr’s had goals in back-to-back games since the first two games of 2009.
But the trio was back at is in the third period. A little over two minutes in, Perreault broke out and fed a streaking Fehr on the right wing for a big slap shot that evaded Garon’s glove hand to stretch the lead to 3-1. The second tally marked Fehr’s first two-goal game since March 9, 2011. With the helper, Perreault notched the first three-assist game of his career.
Five minutes later, during a goal-mouth scrum, Jay Beagle was able to wedge the puck out from underneath a prone Garon and swipe the puck into the net for his first goal of the season and push the lead to 4-1. The replay showed that Garon pretty well had possession and the refs should have probably whistled the play dead, but the Caps were beneficiaries of the extended play.
At the time, it seemed like icing on the cake. Little did the Caps know that goal would prove to be critical.
Tampa Bay found their legs late in the third period with the help of a lucky bounce and questionable decision-making by Holtby.
Teddy Purcell gathered a loose puck behind the Caps net and flung it toward the goal from below the goal line. The puck bounced off a Caps defender’s skate and slipped behind Holtby, cutting the lead to 4-2. Four minutes later, St. Louis sprung Nate Thompson on a breakaway. Holtby (27 saves) came 15 feet out of his crease to try to poke-check the puck, by Thompson easily evaded Holtby’s stick, skated around the fallen goalie, and dumped a backhander into the yawning net.
The Lightning kept up the pressure after that, smelling blood in the water as the Caps spent the remainder of the game scrambling around in their own end. But the equalizer never came, allowing Washington to escape Florida’s Gulf Coast with two points intact and their first three-game winning streak of the season.