By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010; 12:18 AM
The signs were on display early Thursday night that the sellout crowd at Verizon Center was in store for another sublime display by Alexander Semin. It simply took until the final period to be rewarded.
Semin scored three times in the third period for his second hat trick in nine games, leading the Washington Capitals to a 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Semin leads the Capitals with 12 goals this season and is riding a six-game point streak, during which he has recorded 13. Washington has won six in a row.
"He's pretty on right now," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Everything he's touching is turning to gold, and he likes playing obviously with [Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin] and that responsibility."
Boudreau didn't start the contest with his super-powered trio of Semin, Ovechkin and Backstrom on the same line but put them together midway through the game in order to disrupt Tampa Bay's system of clogging up the neutral zone. It proved to be a wise move.
By game's end the trio combined for 12 points and at least two had a point on five of the team's six goals. Although they can sometimes tend to search for the perfect play too often, prompting Boudreau to split them up, Semin, Ovechkin and Backstrom have reached a stage in their familiarity with each other where they barely need to see one another in order to create substantial offensive opportunities.
"We've been together for such a long time and we know each other, so it's so easy to go out there and we don't have to think - just pass," Semin said through an interpreter.
Semin stood out in what was an otherwise sluggish first period with his turnover-causing plays on the penalty kill. Through 40 minutes, he led the team in shots.
Semin broke through about 41/2 minutes into the third period on a power play. He gained control of the puck in the right faceoff circle off a feed from Backstrom. Semin's wrist shot possessed so much oomph that when it hit goaltender Dan Ellis's glove the puck spun over his shoulder and into the net for a 3-2 Capitals lead.
The duo connected again less than seven minutes later at even strength. With the puck behind the net, Backstrom sent a smooth saucer pass to the top of the right circle where Semin blasted a one-timer slap shot to make it 4-2.
"Nothing has changed for me personally. I'm just going out there and playing," Semin said when asked if there was anything different about his play this season.
The Lightning refused to succumb to the surging Washington offense and overloaded line. Third-year Tampa Bay phenom Steven Stamkos scored to trim the deficit to 4-3 nearly 13 minutes into the third period before Semin created another chance.
Semin nearly netted his third goal on a partial breakaway, but instead drew a penalty. During the delayed call, he regained control to pass the puck to Ovechkin, who snapped a shot past Ellis's blocker side to increase the lead to 5-3. It was Semin's second assist of the game.
Semin capped his hat trick with an empty-net goal with 16 seconds left.
"He's a great player with a lot of skills," Backstrom said of Semin, who has often taken criticism for his uneven play and been something of an enigma - until this season. Coaches and players say Semin has been more outgoing through 16 games this season, in addition to having a magic scoring touch, as he has only been held without a point five times this season.
"He's a sniper out there, he can score," Backstrom continued. "I haven't seen Alex play as well as he is right now."
Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth put together a workmanlike effort that steadily improved as the game went on. He once again weathered a storm of opposing chances - the Lightning outshot the Capitals 41-26 - to give his team an opportunity to seize control of the game.
Teddy Purcell gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead in the first period when he scored on a rebound chance, the 12th time this season Neuvirth has allowed the game's first goal.
But as it has done so many times this season, Washington awoke in the second period with goals by Tom Poti - in his first game back after missing eight contests with a groin injury - and Mike Knuble, who potted his second goal in as many games. Although the Lightning would attempt to come back multiple times, including tying the score at 2 on Ryan Malone's power-play goal early in the third, Washington never trailed again.
"The first period wasn't so good," Backstrom said. "We didn't work hard enough, but we worked ourselves back into the game and we finished it off strong. We have to find a way to start games better. Hopefully it will be the next game."