Riding a two-game winning streak - both in regulation, no less - the Caps arrived in Tampa ready to face what, on paper at least, would be the toughest of the three opponents on their road trip. The Lightning proved to be tough on the ice, as well, putting the Caps through their paces and making it interesting right to the end. But thanks to some strong goaltending, timely scoring and an all-around solid game for the team from top to bottom, the streak goes to three.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The fun got started very early in this one, as the Caps needed just 40 seconds to get their first goal of the night. A dominant shift by the top line kicked things off as they established a forecheck and created chaos in front of the net - and out of that chaos was a lurking Alex Ovechkin, who snapped a rebound past Ben Bishop to put the Caps up by one before the game was a minute old.
- Have to wonder why the referees chose not to give Tampa's JT Brown more than just two minutes for his hit on Tom Wilson. That Wilson turned toward the boards to collect the puck made it worse, to be sure, but Brown seemingly had time to stop (or at least to slow down) before making contact, and got all numbers on the hit that sent Wilson face-first into the boards. Tough, physical night all around for Wilson, who had a target on his back the whole game.
- In a game filled with surprises, Brian Boyle scoring against the Caps was the least surprising development. In his 420 NHL games, Boyle has just 109 points - and roughly an eighth of them have come against the Caps, with Boyle's goal tonight checking in as point #13 in 22 games. That's more than he has against any other team in the NHL, narrowly edging out the 12 he has against the Pens (although those 12 points were scored over 27 games). So... there's that.
- We've noted in the past how the Caps have not only cut back on the quick-response goals against, but have also started scoring some quick-response goals of their own. And they did it again tonight, with Matt Niskanen answering right back with a power-play goal just 34 seconds after Boyle tied things up.
- Any time the Caps and the Lightning face each other, all eyes are on Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos - and rightfully so, as they are easily the two best goal-scorers in the League (and you can make your own decisions about who is #1 and who is #2...). So even with both of them going through "dry spells" lately, it was only right that both would get on the scoresheet tonight. And just like Ovechkin did in the first period, Stamkos made his mark early in the second, tying up the game once again with a goal just 37 seconds into the frame. Amazingly enough, while that was Stamkos's 250th career goal... it was just his first goal against Braden Holtby.
- Of course, who needs so-called snipers like Ovechkin and Stamkos when you've got... Brooks Laich?Yes, Brooks Laich, who scored the prettiest ugly drop-your-stick goal just about four minutes after Stamkos tied things up to put the Caps back in front for good. Nice effort by Laich to get himself to the
bakeryfront of the net on the play, picking up his third goal of the year (and his third in the last four games) on an all-around great night for the Caps' third line.
- To say that the Caps have had their ups and downs on the penalty kill this season is something of an understatement, but they were very good when down a man tonight - backed up by a superb performance by Braden Holtby (more on that in a minute) - and killed off all three opportunities against one of the League's best power-play units.
- It wasn't limited to the power play; the Bolts had several stretches of sustained offensive pressure throughout the game, times when they were able to just hem the Caps in and cycle. And while he was very good throughout the game, these were the times when Braden Holtby was at his best. He was seeing the puck well, controlling rebounds and fighting through traffic in his crease to keep his team in the game when the Lightning were throwing everything at him. By the end of the night he'd faced 36 shots (and gotten a little bit of help from his goalpost) and given up tw-...okay, three goals. Still a good night all around for #70.
- Okay, so we had goals from the top line, the power play, the third line... what was next? Would we get another goal by Jay Beagle, or would it be something - anything - from the second line? The fact that these days there may have been better odds on the former (and the fact that Beagle did almost score another beauty) says a lot about the recent struggles of the Caps' second line, but they finally broke through in transition, with Marcus Johansson setting up Troy Brouwer for his first even-strength goal in over a month.
- Hard to remember a three-second span with more excitement than the final three seconds of this game, which featured two goals - first a goal off a rebound by Valtteri Filppula with 2.9 seconds remaining, then a buzzer-beating empty-net goal by Ovechkin to regain the two-goal cushion. And just like that, a 4-2 game turned into a 5-3 final.
That the Caps managed to take a three-game road trip and turn it into a three-game winning streak is pretty impressive; that they did it by getting better each game, and capping it off with an exciting win tonight in Tampa, even more so. Could it be that things are finally starting to click for this team? Three games is a small sample, and there's still some stuff to fix - but it's hard not to like a lot of what the Caps have put together (and in regulation no less, what even) over the course of this road trip.
Next step? Remembering how to win on home ice, something they'll get a shot at doing Thursday night when they return to Verizon Center to face the Blue Jackets. Keep it rolling, boys.