The Washington Capitals finally played a 60-minute game as Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin re-appeared on the scoresheet together, four times—and just like that, the Caps' season is fun all over again.
The five-goal outburst was the first time the Caps have scored more than four since December 21.
Tonight's win was perhaps Washington's best effort of the season. The Capitals thoroughly outplayed Tampa in every phase of the game in what many Washington players and even head coach Bruce Boudreau called their biggest game of the year.
Yesterday Boudreau said, “The reality is, it’s a big game for both teams. It’s what they call a big four-pointer and that’s what it is.” Boudreau can rest easy tonight because the Caps ended up on the positive side of the swing and now trail the Bolts by just three points for the division lead.
The Capitals out-hustled the Lightning to the corners, in the corners and around both nets, as Washington played their trapping style of defensive hockey to almost perfection.
The Capitals outshot the Lightning 36-25, dominating puck possession. Lightning head coach Guy Boucher noted afterwards that the Capitals seemed to be first on every loose puck. The Capitals also dominated in the faceoff circles, winning 41 of the 68 puck drops.
The game did not start well, thee hottest Tampa Bay Lightning continued to remain on fire as Teddy Purcell scored his fourth goal in as many games to stake the Bolts to a 1-0 lead just 3:21 into the opening period.
The normally reliable Semyon Varlamov misplayed the shot as Purcell collected his eighth point over that same four game span. That would be the last lead for the Lightning, as the Capitals would score the next three goals and five of the last six in the game.
Nick Backstrom ended Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson’s shutout streak against the capitals at 133:12, scoring goal No. 13 on the season. Alex Ovechkin was originally credited with the tally but during the first intermission the goal was changed and an assist given to Ovechkin on the play.
Roloson entered with two consecutive shutout wins over Washington, and shutouts in his previous two games overall. Backstrom's goal was the Capitals' first against Tampa Bay in 139 minutes, 22 seconds.
The Backstrom goal was just his second in his last 26 games and less than two minutes later another capital would snap out of his goal-scoring slump.
Brooks Laich would backhand a pass from Mathieu Perreault over Roloson’s shoulder as the Caps would take the lead for good. Laich’s goal was his 10th of the season and just his third in the last 20 games.
The first period saw 30 minutes in penalties with two fights and an agitated Dwayne Roloson. Washington’s Matt Hendricks lazily cross-checked Roloson midway through the period and Roloson let Hendricks know he was not pleased, landing his catching glove into Hendricks' face about five times while he lay on the ice.
The Capitals would continue to take the game to the Lightning in the second period and when the Lightning refused to chase, the Capitals defensemen employed somewhat of a Dean Smith four corners offense, forcing Tampa out to play the puck.
Alex Ovechkin would get goal No. 20 in the second period on a beautifully placed shot over Roloson’s shoulder and into the net. The goal was a power play marker and put the Caps up 3-1.
The power play goal by Ovechkin was just his third power play goal of the season.
The Capitals are still just 11 for their last 95 with the extra man, but the power play looked crisp tonight as Washington moved the puck well with the extra man. They did not stand still, something they had been doing on the power play recently.
The Caps allowed the Bolts to get within one, surrendering a power play tally with just 40 seconds remaining in the second period. Teddy Purcell would again contribute as Brett Clark tipped in his shot.
Carrying their 19-0-2 record of winning games leading after two periods into the third period, the Capitals continued to play strong. Forcing Tampa out of their 1-3-1 defense. Caps defenseman simply stood still and held the puck waiting for Tampa to chase.
"I don't know if it was kind of a mockery of our system or a game plan, but they obviously had a couple days to prepare for the game and then that's what they thought best," Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos said. "It killed some time, so I guess it was successful that way. Obviously, a first for us seeing a team try that."
Nick Backstrom would ensure the almost perfect record of leading after two periods would stand a chance to hold as he scored his second of the night and 14th of the season poking home a rebound off an Alex Ovechkin shot with just a little under eight minutes remaining.
The goal put the Caps up by two goals as Jason Chimera closed out the scoring with an empty net goal.
Backstrom would finish with two goals and two assists, recording his second four-point game of the season against the Lightning. Backstrom had four assists in a 6-3 Washington win back on November 11. Backstrom has not recorded more than two points in a game since December 1.
Alex Ovechkin also recorded four points tonight (1G, 3A) and last did so almost one year ago to the date. Last Super Bowl Sunday against the Penguins, he had a hat trick and an assist. Ovechkin has had five-three point games this season.
Was tonight the Caps best game played of the year?
The Capitals played a great defensive hockey game, clearing the net in front of their goalie on many occasions and aggressively forechecked, back checked, and poke checked all evening. Steven Stamkos was held scoreless for just the third time in his last 10 games.
The Capitals shut down many of the passing lanes and kept the NHL’s No. 2 assist man, Martin St. Louis, bottled up in the corners and on the sideboards all night long. St. Louis and Stamkos combined for just three shots total on the evening.
Despite giving up the early soft goal to Purcell, Varlamov was once again impressive in his 23-save performance. Varlamov has now given up just 19 goals in his last 11 starts.
The Caps have now earned points in 17 of their last 21 games and are 10-4-7 over that span. The Caps and Bolts play one more time this season on March-7 in Tampa.
The Capitals will face the Penguins in a nationally televised NBC game at noon on Sunday.