WASHINGTON – It’s a perfect 10 for the Washington Capitals, whose superstar woke up in a sleepy game to score the goal that kept the winning streak alive Sunday.
Fittingly, it was Alex Ovechkin who found the net with 6:26 remaining in the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, giving Washington a franchise record-tying 10th consecutive victory.
“It’s kind of fun and it’s kind of good,” Ovechkin said. “But we don’t want to stop.”
The reigning two-time league MVP slid on one knee and into the boards to celebrate his 35th goal of the season, a shot from the slot that beat Mike Smith to the stick side. The score rescued the Capitals after Washington blew a two-goal lead with a rare third-period meltdown.
“It was a quiet game,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Once they got the two goals, it got everybody’s blood going again. … Ovie, you could feel on that shift that he sort of just said ‘OK, it’s time I did something.”‘
Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich also scored for the Capitals, whose double-digit run matches the team mark set Jan. 27-Feb. 18, 1984. Washington, which has outscored opponents 47-21 over the 10 games, can break the record Tuesday at Boston.
“The number 10 is pretty tough to get to,” Boudreau said. “I told the guys it’s something that you might go your whole career again without getting again, and so enjoy it.”
The league’s top-scoring team has turned the Southeast Division race into a laugher and is within one point of San Jose for best record in the NHL. Seven of the 10 wins have been by two goals or more, but Sunday’s victory showed the Capitals also can win when they’re far from their best.
“Every team wants to come in a make a statement and say ‘We’re the team that knocked these guys off,”‘ Laich said, “so we’re getting teams’ best efforts every single night. We’re in special territory right now, and a chance to make history in our next game, so we’ve got to be prepared.”
Jose Theodore, returning after missing two games with a lower body injury, made 25 saves for Washington.
The Capitals were leading 2-0 when Martin St. Louis made a nice deflection to pull the Lightning within a goal with 15 minutes to play. Just 7 seconds later, Backstrom was whistled for tripping, Washington’s first penalty of the game.
Tomas Fleischmann compounded matters during the penalty kill committing a hooking penalty out of frustration seconds after losing the puck. The Capitals killed off 23 seconds of 5-on-3, but Steven Stamkos’ one-timer with Fleischmann in the box tied it with 12:18 remaining.
Tampa Bay’s rally proved fruitless when Ovechkin scored, an overdue breakthrough in a game in which the Russian forward had 11 shots blocked before they reached the net.
“It’s devastating, but we’ve got to grab some positive out of this third period, some momentum going into the next game,” St. Louis said. “I thought we showed a lot of character coming back like that.”
The Lightning’s final scoring opportunity was rebuffed when Vincent Lecavalier was kicked out of the faceoff circle in Washington’s zone with 2.4 seconds to play. Lecavalier argued the call and was sent to the penalty box for unsportmanlike conduct, moving the faceoff to Tampa Bay’s end.
Lecavalier blamed the Capitals for influencing the linesman.
“Their guys basically intimidated him to kick me out,” Lecavalier said. “That’s what got me upset.”
The Lightning were the last team to beat the Capitals, a 7-4 victory on Jan. 12 during which Ovechkin challenged Lightning forward Steve Downie to a fight before Washington’s Matt Bradley intervened on behalf of his teammate.
For all the anticipation, Sunday’s rematch was on the dull side for two periods. The only early highlight was Ovechkin’s amusing pratfall behind the Tampa Bay net, the result of a problem with his left skate.
Backstrom got the game’s first goal in the second period by stuffing a rebound between Smith’s legs during a power play. It was Backstrom’s 23rd of the season – a career high – and gave the Capitals nine straight games with a power-play goal.
Laich scored the second goal, poking the puck into the net after Smith had lost his footing.
The Capitals played without Mike Green, who leads NHL defencemen with 52 points. Green was serving the first game of a three-game suspension for elbowing Florida Panthers forward Michael Frolik in the head Friday night.
NOTES: Smith, playing his first game since suffering a neck strain against the Capitals on Jan. 12, made 28 saves for Tampa Bay. … Washington is 21-3-3 at home and has won nine in a row at the Verizon Center. … The Capitals went 13-2-0 in January, breaking the franchise record for victories in a month. They won 12 in December 1984. … The Capitals assigned G Michal Neuvirth to Hershey of the AHL and recalled G Braden Holtby from Hershey. The move was made so that Neuvirth can become eligible to play for Hershey during the upcoming Olympic break.