The Washington Capitals Outscore the Tampa Bay Lightning in NHL Action

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 2, 2009

The Washington Capitals entered last night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 21-point lead over their Southeast Division foe.

Coach Bruce Boudreau still considered the contest to be as important as any, if not more, saying beforehand, "We don't want to give them any thought that they are going to catch us."

Message delivered.

Scoring came from all sorts of unlikely sources -- defenseman Sean Collins scored his first NHL goal and Chris Clark got his first since Nov. 28, 2007, for example -- as the Capitals earned a sloppy 7-4 victory in a game marred by a serious injury suffered by Tampa Bay's Jamie Heward, 37, a former Washington defenseman.

Early in the third period, Alex Ovechkin delivered a punishing hit on Heward in the corner, leading with his forearm, which slammed Heward's head into the glass. Heward was knocked unconscious for more than a minute and was taken off the ice on a stretcher. He was expected to remain overnight at Sibley Memorial Hospital after a concussion was diagnosed.

"I didn't want to hit him hard," said Ovechkin, who later scored his 26th goal of the season. "It was [an] accident and I'm very sorry."

The game was 4-3 at the time of Heward's injury. But the Lightning players were obviously shaken by the injury to their teammate, and the Capitals scored three of the game's next four goals to pull away for their 10th win in 11 games and seventh straight over the Lightning, which got two goals from Vincent Lecavalier. The Capitals also improved to 16-1-1 at home.

"There was a lull for everyone, in the building, too," Tampa Bay Coach Rick Tocchet said outside of a subdued Lightning locker room. "He was moving his arms, [but] he was unconscious for about a minute and a half. I don't know for sure, but it seems that it's hopefully positive."

Asked what he thought of the hit, Tocchet said: "It's a tough one because consistently they're calling anything [involving] heads, a blow to the head. I don't think Ovechkin intentionally was trying to hurt him and be dirty. We were just asking if he left his feet a little bit."

Ovechkin, one of the biggest hitters in the game, was not assessed a penalty. The hit occurred at 6:45 of the third period, and Capitals officials were not expecting the league MVP to face any disciplinary action. Ovechkin seemed shaken up afterward.

"I never want to hurt somebody," he said. "It's hard for me. He was my teammate and I know him well. I hope is he is okay."

Less than two minutes after Heward's injury, Boyd Gordon picked off an errant clearing pass by Lightning goaltender Mike Smith, who struggled in making 28 saves, and scored into a vacated net to put the Capitals ahead 5-3. Although Tampa Bay responded on a goal by Mark Recchi, goals by Clark and Ovechkin in the final 7:13 capped a win that should have come much easier for Capitals, who had led 3-0 after 20 minutes.

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