By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007
TAMPA, Jan. 11 -- Washington Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig refused to deflect the blame for Thursday night's 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Instead, he shouldered it all.
"The team played terrific, but the goalie let them down tonight," Kolzig said flatly. "I didn't make the saves when I needed to make them."
It was a rare off night for the veteran, and it couldn't have come at a worse time for the Capitals, whose three-game winning streak came to a wild conclusion at St. Pete Times Forum against a Southeast Division foe they are battling for position in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
Washington winger Alexander Semin scored two goals and Alex Ovechkin finished with a pair of assists, but goaltending was the difference against an opponent that boasts as much skill as the Lightning.
Kolzig, who faced 25 shots, said he was most upset about two goals in particular: Vincent Lecavalier's second of the game, scored on a breakaway in a five-goal second period that put Tampa Bay ahead 4-3; and the game winner, netted by Martin St. Louis at 3 minutes 22 seconds into the third period.
"On Lecavalier's breakaway, I read him right and he just put it under my pad," Kolzig said. "And obviously on St. Louis's goal, it was a quick play, but as a goalie, you never like getting beat like that. It was a tough night on my part."
The decisive goal followed a giveaway down low in the Capitals zone when an attempted reverse pass behind the net was intercepted by Vaclav Prospal, who flicked it out to St. Louis. The diminutive winger banged it past Kolzig.
"The game wasn't lost on one play," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "I'm a firm believer that games aren't won or lost because of one play. We lost because we gave up five goals. . . . I'm not going to put the blame on one person."
Despite the deflating defeat, the mood in the Capitals locker room was rather light. That may be a good thing considering the road that lies ahead.
Thursday's game marked the start of a critical four-game road trip for Washington, which began the night in eighth place in the conference, one point ahead of the Lightning.
After practicing Friday in Tampa, the Capitals have three more games against conference opponents -- Florida, Ottawa and Carolina -- that are also in the thick of the playoff battle.
The irony of Kolzig's performance was that he enjoyed one of the best games of his career when the Capitals last visited Tampa on Nov. 28. He made 48 saves that night and his team won, 5-2.
He couldn't duplicate that success.
Ryan Craig put the Lightning ahead 4:54 into the game on a wraparound that seemed to catch Kolzig by surprise. Tampa Bay's Eric Perrin was tussling with Capitals center Kris Beech behind the net when the puck squirted loose. Craig swooped in, curled around the net and jammed it past Kolzig, who was late to react.
Semin pulled Washington even 2:07 later on the power play on a fluky goal that eluded Lightning goalie Johan Holmqvist (18 saves).
Lecavalier and the Lightning struck back less than two minutes later. Lecavalier's shot from the slot hit Kolzig's glove, but somehow slipped through and trickled across the goal line, putting the Lightning ahead 2-1.
Semin's seventh score in four games, on a blistering wrist shot, evened things at 2 with less than six minutes gone in the second period.
Capitals winger Ben Clymer scored on a breakaway midway through the period to put the Capitals ahead for the first time, 3-2, on a play set up by Donald Brashear's long pass.
Prospal pulled the Lightning even, 3-3, at 11:15 after his long shot deflected off two Capitals sticks on the way in. Lecavalier's second goal of the night, 1:09 later, came on a four-on-four breakaway and put the Lightning in front 4-3.
With 9.7 seconds remaining in the second period, Ovechkin set up Chris Clark, who snapped a shot past Holmqvist's blocker pad to tie the score at 4. It was only the Capitals' 15th shot of the game.
"I thought we played pretty hard," Clark said. "What little opportunities each side had, they capitalized on them."
Capitals Notes: Right wing Richard Zednik, out since Dec. 2 with an abdominal injury that required surgery, is traveling with the team and skated vigorously in the pregame practice, leading to speculation that his recovery is ahead of schedule. Ovechkin and center Brian Sutherby collided hard in the third period. Both players were shaken by the impact and were still woozy afterward.