After ending a long drought against the New Jersey Devils earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked to take down another bad streak last night against the division rival Washington Capitals. What transpired was a knock-down, drag-out battle for three periods that ended with the Tampa Bay Lightning angry but victorious over the Caps, 7-4.
The victory ended a 12-game losing streak to Washington but also signaled to the division leaders that this Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club won't go down without a fight.
After Washington defenseman Tom Poti made a comment earlier in the week that the Capitals want to "bury the rest of the Southeast division" Lightning coach Rick Tocchet used the comment as motivation for the Bolts.
"I might have mentioned it," Tocchet said after the game.
The message was certainly delivered. Tampa Bay exploded for four goals in the first period, two by rising star Steven Stamkos to lead 4-1 at the first intermission.
The Caps apparently weren't taking too kindly that the Lightning actually had the audacity to challenge the mighty Capitals and forward Brooks Laich took a run at Tampa Bay goaltender Mike Smith. Smith would eventually leave the game in the second period with an "upper body injury" believed to be a neck sprain.
There was no indication that Smith had any effects of a concussion, an issue that has plagued his career in the last few seasons.
The Capitals managed to battle back to tie the game at four at the 12:08 mark of the second period but the Lightning found their second wind late in the period with Martin St. Louis firing a laser shot past goaltender Jose Theodore to give Tampa Bay a 5-4 advantage.
The Lightning would add two more goals in the third period to build the lead back to a three goal advantage. It was then Alex Ovechkin was up to his old tricks, endangering an opposing player, this time his target was Lightning forward Steve Downie.
Ovechkin, who has previously been suspended for extending his knee out in a dangerous fashion, did it again, sending Downie to the ice. Downie quickly retaliated and both were sent to the penalty box for roughing.
"Downs (Downie) makes a move. (Ovechkin) sticks his knee out, leaves his knee out there," Lightning forward Jeff Halpern said. "It's not the cheapest hit in the world, but it's still a dirty hit."
After their time in the sin bin expired, Downie went straight for Ovechkin, dropping the gloves and goading the Caps superstar to do the same. Ovechkin was reluctant at first, but did begin to drop his gloves when fellow Caps player Mark Bradley interceded and took on Downie.
"I'll bet they would do the exact same thing if someone was squaring off with Stamkos," Bradley said apparently forgetting that Vincent Lecavalier is on the Tampa Bay roster. "You don't let guys like that go after your best players, and he's our best player. No matter who it is, we're not going to let someone like Downie to go after him."
A couple minutes later, Lightning tough guy Zenon Konopka destroyed Dave Steckel in a brutal brawl.
As the Caps were taking liberties, the Bolts just played their game.
"We don't have a 20-point cushion in the standings to take liberties." Halpern added.