Alexander Ovechkin returned to the Caps lineup on Saturday night in Tampa and he potted the game winner after a super feed from Nicklas Backstrom midway through the first period as Washington rode another outstanding performance from goalie Jose Theodore (33 saves) to a 3-1 road victory over the Lightning. With the win the Capitals complete a 3-0-1 road trip and up their overall record to 48-14-10 (106 points). With the Devils losing in regulation to the Blues on Saturday and the Penguins losing in overtime to Carolina, Washington just needs five points to formally lock up the Eastern Conference #1 seed (that is a formality). In addition, they now have a nine point lead in the battle for the President’s Trophy. The Chicago Blackhawks are now the main pursuers with 97 points and they have a game in hand on the Caps.
Washington also matched the club record for road wins (1983-84) and they are 22-10-6 away from the Verizon Center this season.
Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from the last game between these two teams until next season:
Despite the fact that they are now golf course bound on April 12th, Tampa gave Washington all it could handle for two periods. The Caps had won 12 straight against the Bolts over the last two seasons until a 7-4 loss in January, but Rick Tocchet’s crew is improving, thanks to the play of youngsters Steven Stamkos (1st overall NHL draft pick in 2008) and Victor Hedman (2nd overall NHL draft choice in 2009). After struggling for 40 minutes, Washington would finally dominate the Lightning in the third period on Saturday, firing 15 shots on net, and improved to 4-2 against Tampa in 2009-10.
“I thought they came out really hard and they outplayed us. The goalie stole it for us in the first two periods and then they probably ran out of steam in the third period and we played alot better as a group in the third period and especially when we got the third goal it was like the wind went out of their sails,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the victory.
Washington took several bad penalties (too many men on the ice and a couple of stupid boarding plays) but a much maligned penalty killing unit thwarted all five Tampa power play chances, something the Caps had struggled to do against Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vinnie Lecavalier, and company this season. Hall of Famer Rod Langway always used to tell me that everything starts with the goalie out and tonight the key to stopping the Tampa man advantage was Theodore.
“I thought the PK was great but the key was Jose. I thought he was outstanding. I felt so comfortable with him in net tonight, it was a good feeling to have. He is just playing with a lot of confidence and he is in such a groove. He’s been like that since January 1. He’s playing so good but I’m not naming anybody anything, but he’s certainly making a great case for himself,” added Boudreau on the play of his goalie and what his thoughts are as far as who will start game one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs the week of April 12th.
Jose Theodore is now 16-0-2 since January 13th. He has wins in six straight starts and his 18 consecutive decisions without a regulation loss are the most in Capitals history and the most by any NHL goaltender in the last 10 seasons (h/t Caps PR staff).
Ovechkin scored his league leading 45th goal (tied with Sidney Crosby) goal after another great outlet pass from Backstrom. #19 banked a long feed from his own zone off of the side boards and right on the Great #8′s stick. From there Alexander the Great went in and faked Antero Niittymaki (25 saves) to the ice and then roofed the biscuit behind him to give Washington a lead they would not relinquish. For the evening the Great #8 was +1 in 22:52 of ice time.
“I thought he was a little tentative early like he was afraid, an ‘I don’t want to get in trouble’ type thing. He got the real game winning goal and in the third period he had a couple of good hits. He is getting back to normal and he had 7 or 8 shots too, that’s good stuff. It’s not like we eased him back in,” added Boudreau on the play of his team captain.
Center Dave Steckel (1 assist) had a super outing and he and Eric Fehr set up Tomas Fleischmann for his 21st goal of the season just 2:40 into the contest. Those three guys were really clicking on a line together and could have had a couple more tallies. #39, who seems to always play well against the Bolts, logged 4:22 of shorthanded time, the most of any Caps forward. He was 9-8 on face-offs in a game that saw his team get smoked on draws, 39-22.
Washington’s third goal came as a result of a nice play by Brooks Laich, who made a good deke in the slot and fired a laser on Niittymaki, and when the goalie could not handle the hot shot, Alexander Semin tapped in the rebound for his 33rd goal of the season. #28 did not have a great game but he came up big at that moment.
The Caps power play went 0 for 4 and while they moved the puck well, they lacked crease presence and as a result, they could not beat Niittymaki. I would like to see more of the Mike Knuble-Laich combo in front of opposing goalies. When the enemy net minder can see the shot, he is almost always going to stop it. Traffic and shots were lacking from a power play that is still ranked #1 in the NHL.
Defenseman Jeff Schultz did not have one of his better outings and he lost Lecavalier in the slot on the Lightning’s first goal. He also made a bad giveaway up the boards to St. Louis in the 3rd period when it was still a one goal game. #55 has looked a little bit slower to me lately and hopefully he is not too worn down for the playoffs. Speed is definitely not his forte but he usually makes up for that deficiency with solid stickwork and positioning.
John Carlson, who was paired again with Shaone Morrisonn, had another strong effort on the blue line in 14:16 of ice time. Carlson is really fitting in at the NHL level and I really liked the way he easily took St. Louis, one of the top forwards in the league, off of the puck in the second period in the defensive zone. #74′s outlet passes always seem to be right where they need to be.
The worst news of the evening was the loss of Scott Walker to an apparent injury after he was knocked to the ground in a fight with Zenon Konopka early in period two.
Joe Corvo and Tyler Sloan were scratched on defense and the healthy forward ones were Matt Bradley (who will be back in for sure with Walker out) and Quintin Laing. Boyd Gordon was sent home earlier in the trip after aggravating his back in Florida on Tuesday.
At the end of the day this was not a pretty effort and the Caps took awhile to take the game over, but a win is a win.
“It’s a good road win for us. That’s 3-0-1 on a four game road trip and it seems like we are never satisfied with how we play but the end result is 3-0-1 in four tough buildings,” finished Boudreau.
Next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night in a “can’t miss” hockey event.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on Section 410 on WNST 1570 at 1040 am on Sunday morning talking Caps hockey with Eric Aaronson. Listen Live at WNST.NET