WASHINGTON – If the Tampa Bay Lightning and their 41-year-old goalie, Dwayne Roloson, were exhausted, they sure hid it well.
Sean Bergenheim scored early, Steven Stamkos added the go-ahead goal on a power play, and Roloson made 26 saves, helping the Lightning beat Alex Ovechkin and the top-seeded Washington Capitals 4-2 on Friday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I don’t know about us being tired,” said Bergenheim, who scored 2:12 into the game. “I don’t feel it right now.”
Steve Downie had a goal and an assist and Dominic Moore added an empty-netter with 40 seconds left for the fifth-seeded Lightning, who have won four straight games since falling behind Pittsburgh 3-1 in the first round.
Roloson got the shutout, and Bergenheim provided the only goal when Tampa Bay won at Pittsburgh 1-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday night. The Lightning flew straight to Washington that night, crawling into their hotel beds after 3 a.m. Thursday.
They were back on the ice for a 7 p.m. faceoff Friday.
“It was good for us, in a way,” Tampa Bay centre Nate Thompson said. “We kind of get right back at it and don’t have a lot of time off. We’re still in game mode.”
That they were.
The Lightning’s get-ahead-and-focus-on-defence strategy confounded the Capitals.
Ovechkin was held without a point and limited to two shots, and Washington went 0-for-5 on the power play—making Tampa Bay’s penalty killers 39-for-40 this post-season.
“They make it frustrating,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They just hang back, and you’re trying to push. They’re very good at it.”
Roloson only needed to make five saves in the third period.
“We’re surprised by the result tonight—but happy with it,” said the goalie, acquired from the New York Islanders on New Year’s Day. “We were lucky to win a hockey game. We had some bounces.”
That’s true. For example, the Lightning trailed 2-1 but tied it with 3:43 left in the second period, when Downie was trying to centre the puck, but his pass deflected off defenceman Scott Hannan’s stick and fluttered over goalie Michal Neuvirth’s right shoulder.
And Stamkos’ goal came with 31.6 seconds remaining in the period, when Neuvirth stopped his initial try but the puck came right back to the forward, who put in the rebound.
That power play came when Jason Chimera was sent off for roughing after a hit on Pavel Kubina, who didn’t play in the third period. That call drew boos from the home fans. Those jeers only grew louder, naturally, when Stamkos converted the extra-man chance.
That finished reversed the 2-1 lead Washington built with goals by Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr.
The Lightning played most of Friday’s game without veteran left wing Simon Gagne, who was helped to the dressing room after his helmet banged on the ice when he fell hard following a hit by Hannan in the first period. The Lightning said Gagne and Kubina would be re-evaluated Saturday.
Game 2 is Sunday night at Washington.
Boudreau chastised his players for engaging in what he called “river hockey”—the sort of back-and-forth, wide-open style the Capitals used to rely on before making a concerted effort to focus on defence.
In the first round, rookie Neuvirth—he’s 18 years younger than Roloson—and the Capitals allowed the New York Rangers to score a grand total of two goals in the three games played at Washington. The Lightning surpassed that total in a span of two periods.
“We played too cute and took penalties, and that cost us,” Ovechkin said. “First period, last 10 minutes, we play our game. First 10 minutes, second (period), we play good. After that, we let them play their game.”
While the Lightning might have been weary, the Capitals could have been rusty. They wrapped up their series against the Rangers in five games last Saturday and had nearly a week off. Boudreau made light of the “Rest vs. Rust” story line Thursday, but perhaps there was something to it.
Neuvirth finished with 20 saves Friday. He entered the day leading the NHL with a 1.38 goals-against average and second with a .946 save percentage. No. 1 in the save category? Roloson.
One key Friday: The Lightning held the edge in special teams play.
“Guys are taking away passing lanes. Blocking shots, obviously. Trying to take away time and space,” Thompson said. “And then your best penalty-killer is going to be your goaltender, and Roli has been that for us.”
NOTES: Capitals D John Carlson played only 36 seconds in the third period, and Boudreau said he was day to day. “I’m hoping he can go Sunday,” Boudreau said. … Washington C Nicklas Backstrom’s goal drought reached 13 games and he acknowledged he might be starting to try too hard to score. “That’s what happens when you struggle,” he said. … The Capitals had an apparent goal waved off 13 1/2 minutes in, when officials ruled Brooks Laich kicked the puck past Roloson.