Washington entered Sunday night's game in a tie for the Southeast Division lead, a single point away from securing the division lead for themselves. The Lightning would strike early on the road but eventually caved-in against the Caps' pressure through the second half of the game.
The Capitals dictated play through the game's final two periods and will leave Washington, DC to face the Montreal Canadiens with two important points under their belt. The season's final push will weed out the pretenders from the contenders, Washington looking more like the latter with each passing game. Sunday's win was Washington's fourth in a row, the Capitals remaining undefeated in April.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Lightning got on the board early after a Steven Oleksy Intereference penalty, their power play clicking seven seconds into the minor and Vincent Lecavalier putting the visitors up by one. A unit that entered Sunday’s game at 17% (21st in the NHL), Lecavalier’s tally was the Lightning’s first power play tally under new head coach Jon Cooper in eleven tries.
- Alex Ovechkin was the first to beat Ben Bishop, redirecting a Jack Hillen point shot past an already committed goaltender. When a netminder fills up as much square footage as Bishop does the highest percentage scoring opportunities are usually late back door looks or trajectory changes. The Captain’s twenty-fourth of the year followed this recipe for success against a larger than average goalie.
- Watching Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin go head to head is impressive, two players that play far more similarly than the famous duo of Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Stamkos leads the league with 25 goals, Ovechkin tying the Lightning's leader with his first empty net goal of the season (his 25th). Both snipers skated above twenty minutes, 20:33 (8 shots) for Ovechkin and 21:54 (3 shots) for a desperate Stamkos, but Washington won the battle of shutting down the opposing team's top threat.
- Michal Neuvirth kept his team close through the first period and late in the third when the Lightning began pressing. Neuvirth was equal on two Lecavalier chances in the first period alone, a partial breakaway from the slot off his right shoulder and a left skate save on Lecavalier's two on one inside the slot. Having not played in eleven games Neuvirth seemed to hit his stride after the early power play goal against. The Czech gatekeeper would end up making 28 saves (.933 S%) and giving Adam Oates some thinking to do.
- Nicklas Backstrom’s five game point streak extends to six after his secondary helper on Ovechkin’s goal (his 300th career assist, congrats!) and adding seven (seven!!) shots of his own. The center has played at a 150 point/season pace across his point scoring streak, leapfrogging fellow center Mike Ribeiro as the Capitals’ second leading point scorer. Great to see Nick moving his legs and producing at such a consistent rate. Ah, familiarity.
- Alex Killorn kept the Capitals’ second period celebration succinct, taking the puck around an outstretched Jack Hillen and putting the puck between Neuvirth’s legs on the breakaway after Ovechkin's tying tally. The goal came a little over three minutes after Ovechkin’s, forcing the home team to press offensively for the tying goal against Tampa Bay's defense.
- Bishop entered tonight’s contest having split his previous two decisions in Tampa Bay blue (his only win one of the shootout variety over division rival Carolina), Washington on Sunday being his third game in four nights. The newest Lightning player performed well, but not well enough against the division's elite (34 saves, .919 S%). His athletic save on Alex Ovechkin early in the third period was a perfect example of Bishop's size and skill shutting down a pure goal scorer.
- John Carlson’s game tying goal before the second intermission began was the type of shot you don’t expect to see Bishop give up. A hard slap shot from just inside the point eluded the goalkeeper’s glove and buried itself tidily in the upper right corner. If Bishop had seemed too large to beat before he was certainly human after Carlson’s sixth of the year.
- Joel Ward’s late second period power move gave Washington its first lead of the night and was a beautiful shift to the slot from the half wall. Cutting down the left wing on the outside of Lightning forward Nate Thompson, Ward turned him inside out with a jump toward the crease and found twine with his chip-shot from in close. Ward's eighth of the year surpasses his goal and point totals from his first season in Washington. The Verizon Center began rocking with four minutes to play in the second period, the momentum carrying the Capitals to their twentieth win of the season. Ward left the third period early after taking a Sami Salo slap shot to the leg, but luckily Adam Oates expects him to travel with the team to Montreal.
- Defenseman Jack Hillen and wife Caitlin added an addition to their hockey family yesterday (April 6th, 2013), the Rink happy to welcome Knox Patrick Hillen to the world and the Caps’ family with a win!
Washington's win places them alone atop the Southeast Division with a game still in hand over the second place Jets. With nine games to play the Capitals are in far better position than most would've expected them to be (injuries aside) in early March, Washington in control of their own playoff destiny.