What started out as a laugher ended up as a nailbiter, as the Washington Capitals frittered a four-goal lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night in front of a squirming sellout crowd at Verizon Center, prompting overtime. There, a terrific offensive move by an inconsistent forward drew a four-on-three power play which resulted in a scintillating goal for one of the hottest Caps players to deliver a 6-5 win and a four point lead in the Southeast Division with six games remaining in the regular season.
The Capitals, winners of seven straight, are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, 13-3-1 in their last 17 games, and their 48 points would qualify for sixth in the conference were they not leading the Southeast, enjoying the No. 3 seed that comes with that distinction.
The overtime goal came at four-on-three courtesy of Marcus Johansson, who gathered a puck along the right wing boards and made a slick move around veteran Vincent Lecavalier, dangling the puck at the end of his stick. Johansson cut hard to the Lightning net, where Lecavalier had little choice but to haul down the Caps forward or surrender a clean scoring chance.
But the tactic only delayed the outcome for a few more moments. On the ensuing power play, Mike Green collected a pass from Mike Ribeiro, took two strides into the high slot, and fired a BB past Mathieu Garon, Tampa’s second goalie of the night, for the game-winner — his tenth of the season.
The overtime tally was the 15th game-winning goal of Green’s career, the sixth in overtime. He ranks tied for third among active defensemen in overtime goals.
“Tomorrow we are going to wake up and we have our two points and that’s all that matters,” Green said, alluding to Tampa Bay’s comeback. “And this game’s put away, but we have to learn from this. We can’t let situations like that happen. They used to call us the Cardiac Kids for a reason and we showed that tonight.”
Washington raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, with Troy Browuer (16), Jack Hillen (2) and Alex Ovechkin (27) all tallying against Lightning starter Ben Bishop. The Capitals dominated play at both ends and Tampa looked interested only in getting it over with and heading for the bus.
The Caps extended the lead to four early in the second on Jason Chimera’s second goal of the season. Tampa showed a bit of life, answering a minute later with Richard Panik’s first goal of the night. But two minutes later, Eric Fehr tipped in a nifty pass from Matthieu Perreault and at 5-1, things looked bleak for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay cut the lead to three with less than two minutes to go in the second on a goal by Martin St. Louis, setting up the big third period comeback. The Caps, who seemed to be playing from their heels in the third frame, surrendered three third period goals to complete the comeback and force overtime.
Head coach Adam Oates described how the Caps fell flat after playing so well the first 40 minutes of the game. “Guess there is no really easy explanation. First of all, they are a good team. And everything went our way in the first period. You lose a little bit of momentum because it was a little too easy, you get a little flat and all of a sudden, here they come. You start sinking yourself and before you know it, it’s happening pretty fast.”
The Caps are off until Tuesday when they will host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:00 pm.