WASHINGTON – As a group of reporters approached Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Matt Walker in the visitors’ locker-room Friday night, a teammate teased, “The superstar’s here!”
Another called out, “You know his nickname? ‘The Ocho,”‘ a reference to Walker’s jersey No. 8.
Yep, you’re bound to be the subject of some good-natured ribbing when you score twice in three games after netting a grand total of two goals in your first 291 NHL appearances.
Walker put in one goal and created another a few minutes later when his shot deflected in off Vincent Lecavalier’s left forearm, helping struggling Tampa Bay edge the NHL-leading Washington Capitals 3-2.
“It was probably the best road game we played all year,” said Antero Niittymaki, who made 28 saves. “Not just because we beat Washington. The overall game.”
Brandon Bochenski also scored for the Lightning, who won for only the second time in nine games after entering the day tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference.
While the Lightning were excitedly talking about putting in a strong all-around effort – they won even though Steven Stamkos’ franchise-record 18-game points streak ended – Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau criticized the way his team played in its first regulation home loss since Dec. 28.
“We stayed out too long, we got outworked, and we didn’t play the way we’re capable of playing, and that’s the reason we lost. It had nothing to do with goaltending,” Boudreau said. “We should be able to score – with that lineup – three goals a game. And we got none 5-on-5, which has been a strength of ours all year. When you get none 5-on-5, the telltale sign isn’t luck, isn’t anything. You got outworked. And, I mean, there’s no excuse.”
Tomas Fleischmann and Brooks Laich scored power-play goals for Washington, and two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin assisted on both. But the Capitals lost for the second time in their past three home games following a club-record 13-game winning streak in Washington. Dallas beat Washington in a shootout Monday.
The Capitals clinched a third consecutive Southeast Division title – the first team in the league to secure a playoff berth – when second-place Atlanta lost to Columbus on Thursday night, but there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement about that feat.
“I mean, that’s not our goal. We’re happy that we’ve done it … (but) our team had bigger goals in mind,” Boudreau said before Friday’s game. “Some teams that haven’t made the playoffs, their goal is to make the playoffs. We’ve been there a couple years in a row now. I think we have to go further.”
Fleischmann made it 1-0 with his career-high 20th goal about 17 minutes into the game, redirecting a cross-ice pass from Ovechkin. Fleischmann, who scored 19 goals in 2008-09, is the sixth Capitals player with at least 20 this season – no other club has more than four with that many.
Washington’s lead didn’t last long, however. Bochenski tied it with less than 50 seconds left in the opening period, beating goalie Semyon Varlamov with a slap shot from just across the blue line for his second goal of the season.
Walker also recorded his second goal – the other came Tuesday against Montreal – to put Tampa Bay ahead 2-1 at the 11:30 mark of the second period. Nate Thompson won a faceoff, and Stephane Veilleux tipped the puck to Walker, whose slap shot from behind the left circle sailed into the upper right corner of the net.
It became 3-1 a little more than 3 1/2 minutes later, when Walker sent a rising shot toward Varlamov. Lecavalier was camped out in front and spun away, apparently trying to avoid getting hit. The puck went off Lecavalier and flipped past the goalie. Officials reviewed it and allowed the goal, saying Lecavalier did not use his hand to purposely direct the puck in.
“That thing was coming right at my face,” said Lecavalier, credited with his 19th goal. “Obviously, it’s a lucky goal.”
NOTES: Stamkos’ seven-game goal streak also ended, one short of tying the team record. Walker credited his recent scoring to using the same sticks as Stamkos. … Ovechkin has multiple points in three straight games and 31 of 60 games this season.