TAMPA, Fla. – The Washington Capitals employed a new strategy en route to a much-needed victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and two assists while Alex Ovechkin recorded a goal and three assists as the Capitals beat the Lightning 5-2 on Friday night in a matchup of the Southeast Division’s top two teams.
“It felt a little bit like a playoff game,” Backstrom said. “It was a big game for us, a big two points.”
Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera also scored for the Capitals, who moved to within three points of the first-place Lightning. Washington had gone 0-1-2 in its previous three games, scoring just three goals over that stretch.
Tampa Bay, which had a six-game win streak snapped, got goals from Teddy Purcell and Brett Clark.
“That’s a very weak word,” said Lightning coach Guy Boucher when asked if he was disappointed. “There was no urgency in our game. It’s a lack of respect for an opponent.”
The game occasionally saw Washington keep the puck in its end of the ice until Tampa Bay, which lined up in an 1-3-1 defensive setup in the neutral zone, sent a forechecker in from centre ice.
“I don’t know if it was kind of a mockery of our system or a gameplan, but they obviously had a couple days to prepare for the game and then that’s what they thought best,” Tampa Bay centre Steven Stamkos said. “It killed some time, so I guess it was successful that way.
“Obviously, a first for us seeing a team try that.”
Backstrom said the Capitals were trying to frustrate Tampa Bay.
“It’s only good when you’re leading,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It was something we tried because nothing seemed to work before. He’ll (Boucher) figure something out to stop that, but it worked for one night.”
After Laich scored at 6:38 of the second, Ovechkin made it 3-1 on a power-play goal 1:47 later. It was Ovechkin’s 20th goal this season, coming in his 53rd game.
Clark cut the deficit to 3-2 during a power play with 40.1 seconds left in the second. It stopped a personal 19-game goal drought.
The Capitals went ahead 4-2 on Backstrom’s second of the game at 12:22 of the third. Chimera had an empty-net goal with 37.1 seconds remaining.
Washington got the game’s first six shots, however, the Capitals fell behind 1-0 when Purcell scored on Tampa Bay’s initial shot at 3:21 of the first.
The Capitals then got the next six shots after Purcell’s goal, with Backstrom tying it 1-1 against Dwayne Roloson on Washington’s 12th shot 9:09 into the game.
“We just didn’t match their intensity,” Stamkos said. “They said it was the biggest game of the year for them. There’s no excuses.”
Roloson entered with two consecutive shutout wins over Washington, and shutouts in his previous two games overall. Backstrom’s goal was the Capitals’ first against Tampa Bay in 139 minutes 22 seconds.
The opening period featured 23 shots (17 by Washington), a pair of fights and a scrum in the crease that saw Roloson get a roughing penalty for jabbing Washington’s Matt Hendricks—who was given a goaltender interference penalty—several times with his glove.
Roloson faced 35 shots. Washington’s Semyon Varlamov made 23 saves.
NOTES—Stamkos, the NHL’s leading goal scorer with 39, didn’t have a point. … Purcell also had an assist, giving him four goals and nine points over his last four games. … Washington LW Alexander Semin (groin) has resumed practising, but missed his 11th straight game. … Tampa Bay LW Ryan Malone (mid-body) sat out his fourth consecutive game. … Ovechkin stopped to play floor hockey on a mini-rink with a group of kids just outside the locker room area after arriving for the game. … Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal and picked up just his third power-play goal this season.