Staring down the barrel of back-to-back games on the heels of a four-game losing skid, the Tampa Bay Lightning were in desperate need of a win against a Washington Capitals team that has had their number in recent years. Thankfully for the Lightning, a couple of familiar faces came to the rescue on Saturday night at Amalie Arena.
Ben Bishop stopped 34 shots, Nikita Kucherov scored a power play goal to extend his recent hot streak, while Brian Boyle and Brayden Point tallied shootout goals as the Lightning (14-11-1) stopped their losing streak with a 2-1 victory over the Capitals (13-7-3). It was Bishop’s first win between the pipes since November 17th, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Lightning get ready to take on Carolina on Sunday in the second half of a back-to-back. On the other side, Washington’s Braden Holtby was outstanding, making 32 saves, several on Grade-A chances for the Lightning that kept the Caps in the game.
Even though the Bolts had more quality chances, it was a tense, evenly-played, back-and-forth hockey game. However, you could make a case that it was one of the Lightning’s most complete efforts this season, as the Lightning showed plenty of desperation and heart in collecting the win and putting a halt to their recent skid.
“Everyone paid a price tonight. We played desperate, we played together, and that was one of our most complete games all year, I think” said Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman, who picked up an assist on Kucherov’s goal. “We battled hard, and our PK was outstanding. It was an overall great performance.
The Lightning’s effort on the penalty kill was a complete turnaround after Thursday’s dreadful performance in St. Louis when they allowed the Blues to score three times on seven power play chances. Against the Capitals, they only allowed one goal on five chances and had a two solid kills in the third period and overtime. Boyle reflected on the string of power plays that Washington got from the second period on and gave Bishop a lot of credit for the penalty killers’ performance tonight.
“Well, that’s why we got Bish back, made some huge saves again, obviously. It’s a challenge, it’s not gonna be easy. No one’s gonna give us a win,” said Boyle. “They don’t care if we’ve won 10 in a row or lost 10 in a row, they’re gonna come after us. We hung on, we put ourselves in a tough spot, but the PK was huge.”
Considering how the Lightning have often fallen behind early in the first period this season, they got off to a pretty solid start, generating a few solid chances, allowing very few quality chances, and getting traffic in front of Holtby. Point had a good look off a rush down the left wing, but couldn’t finish it off just a minute into the game. At the 4:07 mark, the Lightning found themselves on the power play when Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom got whistled for high-sticking Tyler Johnson, but the Bolts were unable to convert despite having a couple of good looks from Kucherov. At the 11:02 mark, Alex Ovechkin was called for tripping Hedman, and the Lightning had a few more good looks, one from Johnson in the slot off a centering pass, and another from Boyle following a between the legs move in front of Holtby. The Triplets line of Johnson, Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat continued their recent stretch of impressive play, creating multiple quality chances that forced Holtby to react and make saves. Washington’s best chance came off a 3-on-2 when Evgeny Kuznetsov made an extra pass when he probably should’ve shot it. The Lightning held an 11-8 edge in shots on goal heading into the first intermission.
Washington found themselves with a man-advantage opportunity just 1:16 into the second period as Alex Killorn was sent to the box for hooking, but the Lightning did a great job of limiting the Capitals’ chances. Johnson even had a great look off a shorthanded rush, but couldn’t finish the play off. Tampa Bay would dominate much of the first 15 minutes of the middle period, getting multiple quality scoring chances, including a toe drag move by Joel Vermin on a 2-on-1 that Holtby smothered and a breakout lob pass from Hedman that led to a Kucherov breakaway. However, Holtby was able to get his blocker on the shot, keeping the game scoreless.
Tampa Bay would finally get on the board with 7:22 left in the second period after Ovechkin had been called for tripping. Following some good puck movement by the Bolts, Hedman dished a pass over to Kucherov from the top of the right circle. Kucherov unleashed a wicked one-timer that beat Holtby as Boyle screened him, putting the Lightning up 1-0 with a crucial power play tally. Hedman and Jonathan Drouin got the assists, although Drouin’s helper wasn’t officially credited to him until the star of the third period.
During the last five minutes of the period, the Capitals had back-to-back power plays, but were unable to convert, as Bishop came up with a huge save on Evgeny Kuznetsov following a pass from Ovechkin down low. The Lightning’s penalty killers also got the job done, most notably with Palat getting his stick on a feed from Backstrom to Ovechkin that could’ve been dangerous. Washington held a 19-18 edge in shots at the second intermission.
Early in the third period, both teams had more solid looks at the net, but neither team was able to cash in. However, the Capitals were able to tie it up with a power play goal at the 6:24 mark after Braydon Coburn was penalized for high-sticking. Backstrom rifled a wrist shot on net from the top of the right circle, beating Bishop and tying the game at 1-1, as Marcus Johansson provided the screen in front. John Carlson and Johansson got the assists, and the Capitals were in business, as they picked up their play considerably on the next shift, highlighted by an Andre Burakovsky shot that hit the post. Andre Sustr was sent to the box for hooking at the 10:19 mark following a sequence in which he and Slater Koekkoek lost track of the puck. Washington was unable to convert on the power play, as Johnson nearly put the Bolts on top with a shorthanded opportunity.
The game would go to 3-on-3 overtime, where the Lightning clearly had the better run of scoring chances, but were unable to get one past Holtby, as Palat nearly went coast-to-coast, Valtteri Filppula nearly converted, and Killorn almost sealed the deal off a rush following an excellent defensive play by Anton Stralman. With 33.5 seconds left in the extra frame, the Lightning took a penalty for too many men on the ice, and Carlson nearly ended it for the Caps, but his one-timer from the left circle was gobbled up by Bishop.
In the opening three rounds of the shootout, Kuznetsov converted for Washington, while Point earned his third shootout goal this season. During the fourth round of the shootout, Boyle picked up what would be the winning goal before Johansson was denied by Bishop to seal the victory.
The Lightning finish off their set of back-to-back games on Sunday afternoon in Raleigh, NC when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes. Puck drop is at 5 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Nikita Kucherov – Scored the lone goal for the Lightning in regulation on the power play, his team-leading 13th goal of the season. Also had a team-high five shots on goal.
2nd Star: Braden Holtby – Made several quality stops on some excellent scoring chances for the Lightning, finishing with 32 saves on 33 shots.
3rd Star: Ben Bishop – Earned his first win since November 17th, stopping 34 of 35 shots and coming up with some big saves in the third period, overtime, and the shootout.