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Tampa Bay Upends the Caps
Late Rally Falls Short After Washington Gives Up Three Goals in the First Period: Lightning 5, Capitals 4

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; E01

Washington Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig summed up last night's drama-filled 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning the way only a longtime NHL veteran could.

"Sometimes when you're a young team," he said, "and things are going good, maybe you forget what got you into that position. I thought we were a little overconfident."

Kolzig's comment cut straight to the core of what occurred at Verizon Center before an announced crowd of 10,417: The up-and-coming Capitals underestimated the been-there-done-that Lightning.

It proved to an enormous miscalculation.

Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier dominated every meaningful statistical category through the game's first 40 minutes. And although the Capitals struck twice in the third period and pressed hard for the equalizer in the final minute of play, they couldn't overcome two periods of sloppy, mistake-ridden play.

"I can't believe that anyone wouldn't respect Tampa Bay," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "They have 11 guys who have won Stanley Cups. There's a fine line between being confident and being respectful."

St. Louis had two goals and Lecavalier and defenseman Filip Kuba each had a goal and two assists for the Lightning, which snapped a four-game losing streak. Washington, meantime, lost in regulation for only the second time in 10 games.

The Capitals managed to make things interesting late after Kris Beech scored on the power play with 9 minutes 31 seconds left to play and defenseman Bryan Muir scored a long wrist shot 1:43 later.

Muir's goal made it 5-4 and caused some tense moments for Tampa Bay. But the tying goal never came thanks to goaltender Marc Denis, who recorded 13 of his 20 saves in the third period. Kolzig made 30 stops.

"We were too relaxed from the opening shift," Capitals defenseman Steve Eminger said. "We're not a team that can rely on playing a relaxed, skilled game. We have to do what we do every game, which is work hard."

A critical mistake by Eminger led to what turned out to be the decisive goal. In the final minute of the second period, Eminger mishandled the puck along the side boards.

It wound up on the stick of Ruslan Fedotenko, who skated in on Kolzig. The rebound came out to winger Nikita Alexeev, who buried it to put the Lightning ahead 5-2 with 42 seconds remaining before the second intermission. The Capitals never fully recovered.

"I'd love to have that one back," Eminger said. "I felt like I was in quicksand."

Tampa Bay dominated the first period, outshooting the Capitals 17-5 and opening a 3-1 lead on goals by Kuba, St. Louis and Lecavalier. Kuba's and Lecavalier's goals were on the power play.

Alex Ovechkin scored the Capitals' only goal of the first, and it was a thing of beauty. The powerful left wing controlled a loose puck along the left boards, weaved his way through three Tampa Bay players, curled away from the net, spun and fired a shot between Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle's skates and past a screened Denis to make it 2-1.

St. Louis's second goal, in the second period, came on the power play at 1:35 and put the Lightning up 4-1.

Then, just when it began to look hopeless for the Capitals, Tampa Bay captain Tim Taylor was sent to the penalty box for hooking. Six seconds later, Capitals defenseman Jamie Heward sent a high wrist shot through a screen and past Denis, who did not appear to see the puck until it was in the net, to trim the Capitals' deficit to 4-2 at 8:36.

Alexeev's goal, however, put it away.

Capitals Notes: Before last night's game, Comcast SportsNet camera operators and production employees, who are members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, walked off the job because of a labor dispute. The broadcast went on as scheduled, and Comcast officials said they are negotiating a labor agreement with the union. . . .

Left wing Donald Brashear was a late scratch because of an undisclosed injury. He was replaced in the lineup by Alexandre Giroux, who was recalled from Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League yesterday.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company