Capitals keep their composure, beat Lightning for third straight win

Capitals keep their composure, beat Lightning for third straight win

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

TAMPA — For the first time in more than three months, the Washington Capitals have won three straight games in regulation. Playoff hopes, however faint, are flickering. And with the March 8 trade deadline looming, they have found a level of consistency that has been absent most of the campaign.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena, but after seeing their two-goal lead evaporate in just 24 seconds early in the third period, the Capitals got back on top with a late game-winner from defenseman Rasmus Sandin to beat the Lightning, 5-3. Goaltender Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves on 32 shots for Washington, winning his second consecutive start. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 19 of 23 for Tampa Bay.

“We were just so composed. … It played out the way that you thought,” Coach Spencer Carbery said. “Even after giving up those two goals quickly, the composure on the bench, our next shifts after that, you could just tell it wasn’t a team that was rattled. It wasn’t a team that was going to let a couple bad scenarios determine our fate.”

Last time out: Caps cruise behind two-goal nights by Connor McMichael and Alex Ovechkin

For the first two periods, the Capitals were largely in control. In his return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous two games, winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel put the Capitals ahead just 2:30 into the first period.

Beck Malenstyn, Aube-Kubel’s fellow fourth-line winger, forced a turnover along the end boards with a heavy hit on defenseman Emil Lilleberg, and Aube-Kubel tracked down the puck as it slid toward the blue line. Once he corralled it, Aube-Kubel bounced the puck off the half-wall — around Tampa Bay center Anthony Cirelli — and back to himself before working in on Vasilevskiy and lifting a backhand over the netminder.

Center Connor McMichael doubled Washington’s lead late in the first period after winger Tom Wilson’s hit on defenseman Haydn Fleury took him out of the play. Wilson picked up the puck after the hit and fed it to defenseman Joel Edmundson, who found McMichael for a quick-release wrister that beat Vasilevskiy.

Brandon Hagel halved the Lightning’s deficit midway through the second period, firing a wrist shot past Lindgren while using center Dylan Strome as a screen, but it took Strome less than three minutes to help Washington back to a two-goal advantage. After Hagel’s goal, Carbery swapped his forward lines, putting winger Anthony Mantha with Strome and winger T.J. Oshie and slotting captain Alex Ovechkin with McMichael and Wilson.

Coming up the ice on the rush, Strome sent a saucer pass across the slot to Mantha, who one-timed the feed past Vasilevskiy.

“I felt like I needed to make a switch there to try to change momentum because you could feel it coming,” Carbery said. “And then they end up getting a goal, so we decided to make an adjustment there. Just make it harder for [Tampa Bay Lightning Coach Jon Cooper] to go after a matchup that he was looking for.”

Strome was sent to the penalty box for slashing with 2:33 left in the second period, giving the NHL’s top power play a chance to swing the momentum before intermission. But Washington, despite being without its top penalty-killing forward in Nic Dowd, killed the penalty without allowing Tampa Bay a single shot on net.

“Effort and attitude. A lot of grit. You look at the guys that kill penalties, they’re not scared to put their bodies in harm’s way,” Lindgren said. “ … I thought we did a terrific job.”

Ryan Leonard could be a star for the Caps. Just watch him at Boston College.

The Lightning quickly pulled back the momentum in the opening minutes of the third period. Tampa Bay scored two goals just 24 seconds apart, and the Capitals’ comfortable lead vanished. For the first of the two tallies, forward Nick Paul caught defenseman Ethan Bear flat-footed deep off the rush and wheeled around Bear before cutting to the front of the net and completing the solo effort with a shot that found the back of the net.

For the second, Tyler Motte took advantage of a turnover in the corner, popping into the slot with a clear lane to beat Lindgren over the shoulder. Strome looked to have put Washington back into the lead moments later, but the goal was taken off the board after a successful offside challenge by the Lightning.

Strome went to the penalty box again with 10:35 left in the third period, this time for tripping Hagel. But the Capitals again kept Tampa Bay from capitalizing on the man advantage, even as the Lightning generated several dangerous looks. And immediately after Strome’s penalty expired, Hagel was sent to the box for high-sticking McMichael.

Washington did not score on the ensuing power play, and more alarmingly for the Capitals, Oshie left the game after a noncontact injury during his shift with the top unit.

“Fairly high,” Carbery said when asked about the concern level for Oshie. “We’ll evaluate. I’ll know more [Friday]. But it’s never a good sign when you see a player leaving the ice like that.”

After Oshie’s injury, the Capitals seemed to find another gear.

“You want to do something better for the guy that goes down,” defenseman John Carlson said. “It was a good effort from everybody to stay composed and to keep pressing.”

They were rewarded with 4:59 left remaining when Sandin converted on a wide-open chance in the slot to put Washington back into the lead — and this time, the go-ahead goal remained on the board. McMichael hit the empty net with 1:02 remaining for his second consecutive multi-goal game.

“It’s that time of year,” Carlson said. “There’s been some big blocks here and there. Some huge saves. Some big penalty kills, some big [power play] goals. You need all those things to have a successful run in this league and certainly at this time of year against good teams.”

Note: Washington recalled winger Pierrick Dube on Wednesday from the Hershey Bears, its American Hockey League affiliate, in response to Dowd’s injury. Dube, who is tied for second in the AHL with 24 goals, was a healthy scratch Thursday as Aube-Kubel drew back into the lineup.

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