It’s a really good thing the Verizon Center roof is secured tightly, otherwise it might have blown off as the Washington Capitals put on a furious rally from a 3-0 deficit, including four third period goals, to sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning out of town, 5-3.
The comeback was fueled by outstanding offense from T.J. Oshie and Alexander Ovechkin, who both had two goals and two assists as the Capitals rode three power play tallies in four attempts to victory, including Marcus Johansson’s sweet game winning goal with 5:44 remaining. Ovechkin had 19 shot attempts, including nine shots on goal in this contest; those are some amazing numbers right there.
Philipp Grubauer (seven saves) came on in relief of Braden Holtby (three goals allowed on 12 shots) with 10:54 remaining in the middle period and the Caps trailing by a trio of pucks. Holtby wasn’t bad, the Capitals had terrible breakdowns in front of him on each of the three Tampa tallies, and Coach Barry Trotz said his decision was more about the skaters and not the Holtbeast.
“I pulled Holtby because I was tired of Braden bailing the team out…he’s been our MVP,” said the Washington bench boss, who has guided the Caps to a 23-6-2 start (48 points) this season.
Coach Trotz was okay with Washington’s first period, where they outshot Tampa, 10-4, and out attempted the Bolts, 22-18, despite trailing 1-0. Ben Bishop was perfect in that opening frame and was the biggest reason the Caps were losing.
Then came an abysmal start to the middle frame by Washington. They were sloppy and letting the fast Tampa squad skate all over them. The Caps also made many mistakes, including some terrible mental ones. On the Bolts second goal, the Washington defender comes back and over skates his man after getting caught up ice, then he goes down and blocks #70’s view of the shot, which was buried by Andrej Sustr (1st of the season). On the third Tampa marker, the Caps won a faceoff and turned the puck over in the neutral zone right in front of the Capitals bench. That’s not disastrous, but for some reason, two of the forwards, including the right wing from the far side of the ice, decided to change. Bad, bad, bad hockey decision and it resulted in Steven Stamkos, the 2nd best shooter in the NHL (Ovechkin), burying one by Holtby from the slot in between the circles. Braden had no chance on that one since the Capitals boneheaded mistakes allowed #91 to have an easy lane to the net. Afterward, Coach Trotz commented on that particular sequence.
“That’s details and that angered me quite a bit,” stated the bench boss, who is fighting a cold, which he said prevented him from yelling during the game, and specifically at that moment.
The goalie change would wake the Capitals up and they finally got on the board with just over six minutes left in period two. Oshie drew Bishop out of his cage on the power play and made a ridiculous, no look pass to the Gr8, who quickly buried the biscuit.
That gave Washington life and after 40 minutes they trailed by two pucks, 3-1. Coach Trotz and Oshie afterwards both stated that the locker room, between the 2nd and 3rd periods, was positive and the team wanted to focus on playing a heavier game with more hits. Basically this tilt was a match up of speed vs. size and through the first two frames speed was killing. Shot attempts were 40-35 for the Bolts, including a dominating 22-13 in the second period.
Tampa had only really been using three lines most of the night, so when the Caps amped up their intensity and started taking the body in those last 20 minutes, the Bolts got tired and became unglued.
But all of that doesn’t happen if not for a huge save by Grubauer on Vladislav Namestnikov with just over seven minutes into period three. It was one of only seven he had to make in relief, but it was a great scoring chance, and if it goes in, it’s 4-1 and that’s your ballgame. But #31 came up big and immediately following the save, Oshie corralled the puck, skated down the right wing, and fired one over the shoulder of Bishop to electrify the Verizon Center.
Matt Niskanen then laid out J.T. Brown with a big hit, which was a little bit of a pay back for what Brown did to Nate Schmidt last Saturday in Tampa. That not only fired up the home crowd further, but Victor Hedman took an interference penalty.
That brought out the famed “Unleash the Fury” video montage and with the crowd buzzing, Ovechkin made a sweet curl and drag move around the Tampa defender and put one past Bishop to tie the contest up. Verizon Center was really rocking after that and the Capitals kept coming into the offensive zone like they were storming the beaches of Normandy. During that sequence, Dmitry Orlov drew a tripping penalty on Anton Stralman. Once again the power play made the Bolts pay with Ovechkin and Oshie making two sweet passes to set up Jojo for the one timer, which he buried from the lower right wing circle to make it 4-3.
The Caps would really lock things down from there and with less than a minute left, Ovechkin made a super play in his own zone with Bishop pulled allowing him to get the puck to Nicklas Backstrom just inside the Caps side of the red line. Nicky then fed Oshie, who hit the empty net from just outside the blue line to close this one out. Backstrom picked up his 600th career NHL point on that play.
Following the game, Oshie praised the environment in helping the Capitals win.
“Let’s get this out of the way right now, Unleash the Fury is hilarious…that’s the loudest it’s been in here all year.”
It certainly was loud and the Caps ability to find ways to win games when they are not playing their best continues to be encouraging. They were dominated badly during the middle portion of this game, but they regrouped and refocused, played to their strengths, and crushed Tampa down the stretch to win the season series, 3-0.
Now the Capitals will head to New York on Sunday night for a rematch with the Rangers, who drubbed Washington, 5-2, earlier in the season. The Rags have been struggling lately and with the Caps winning their fourth straight game, Washington is now six points ahead of New York (48-42) with three games in hand (New York was defeated, 5-2, in Winnipeg on Friday night) in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps, who were knocked out of the playoffs last season by the Blueshirts, will be extra focused for this one, but when Backstrom was asked about it, he provided a bit of the old Crash Davis “play them one game at a time, good Lord willing” type of answer.
“It’s going to be a good match up. Yeah, it will be fun, we lost against them last year, so we need a rematch here.”
#19 clearly didn’t want to give New York any bulletin board material and prefers to let the Caps game on the ice do the talking.
If Washington plays anything like they did in period three on Friday night, then there will be fireworks on 33rd street in Manhattan on Sunday.
Notes: the Caps outshot Tampa, 23-19, but overall shot attempts were 56-52 for the Bolts…Ovechkin now has 16 goals and 13 assists in 30 games. Oshie has 12 goals and nine assists in 31 games. The Caps are undefeated when the American shootout whiz scores a goal…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:17…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 24-23…the Bolts went 0 for 3 on the power play.