By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 12:26 AM
Unlike the first two meetings between the front-runners for the Southeast Division title, no one would light up the scoreboard in Tuesday night's contest between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center. Instead, this was a chess match for supremacy ruled by the goaltenders.
After more than 60 minutes of scoreless play, with Semyon Varlamov and Dwayne Roloson matching each other save for save, Martin St. Louis fired a rebound into the Capitals' cage for a 1-0 Lightning victory in overtime. Strong defensive play and goaltending provided little solace for Washington, though, as the Lightning took a step forward in the fight for the Southeast.
The Capitals and Lightning entered the contest tied in points but with Tampa Bay the bona fide leader because it had played one fewer game. The overtime victory gives the Lightning a 53-52 edge, still with a game in hand over Washington.
While it was St. Louis's shot - after a kick save on a shot by Vincent Lecavalier popped out to the slot - that decided the stalemate, it was the dueling netminders, one young and the other a proven veteran, that dictated the contest. Varlamov, 22, made 37 saves while Roloson, 41, stopped all 34 Washington shots.
"I thought he played really good," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Varlamov, who has allowed only four goals on 131 shots - a .969 save percentage - in his past four starts. "Both goalies played really good [Tuesday]. If there was average goaltending, it would've been a 4-3 game. But [with] two good goaltenders it ended up 1-0."
It's the first time the Capitals have lost by a 1-0 score since March 2, 2004, to the Florida Panthers, and the first time they played a scoreless game through regulation since a scoreless tie against the Ottawa Senators on Apr. 5, 2002. The Capitals were shut out at home for the first time since a 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Dec. 9.
Tuesday's game featured a rapid yet controlled tempo as neither side wanted to give the opposing offensive weapons chances. At the start, however, Washington didn't display the same verve as its opponent, which is 9-1-1 in its past 11 outings. Tampa Bay pressed from the outset, creating chances and trying to catch the Capitals off guard after the intensity from Saturday's 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Winter Classic subsided. For the first three-quarters of the opening frame, the Lightning dominated play and it would carry a 12-5 edge in shots into the first intermission.
"At this point in the season it's tough to play a game of that intensity," defenseman John Carlson said of trying to rebound from the Winter Classic. "That's why I thought we came out a little lackluster and it took a little while to get our feet under us. When we did we played great. It was just maybe if we would have played the first 15 minutes good we could have had a few more bounces and maybe popped one in early."
By the time the Capitals roared out of the break to start the second, Roloson appeared unflappable. Tampa Bay acquired the veteran goaltender on Jan. 1 from the New York Islanders in an effort to provide stability in the crease, which Roloson didn't hesitate to supply in his first start with the Lightning.
Regardless of the opportunities Washington had - the loose pucks in and around the crease or rebounds swatted back toward the cage - Roloson, or a Tampa Bay defender, blocked their intended course.
"I think he played well," Matt Hendricks said of Roloson. "The rebounds that he did have, he seemed to smother them or find our second opportunities. That's what they got him for."
Washington took six shots against Roloson on the power play but continued its trend of struggling with the man-advantage, going 0 for 3 against Tampa Bay. In the past 10 games, the Capitals have scored just three power-play goals in their 39 tries - a success rate of 7.7 percent.
Despite the Capitals' shot total, Boudreau made it clear after the game's sudden end that he wasn't content to credit the lack of goals solely to Roloson.
"I think we could have got more" scoring chances, Boudreau said. "If [we] went to the net a little harder, we would have scored goals. I mean, 34 shots, when you have the ability to get more chances than that - I don't know. We're not scoring a lot of goals. Thank God we're getting good goaltending and playing solid defense because we're not scoring a lot of goals."