Capitals 3, Lightning 2
Reprinted from yesterday's editions
After three weeks and nine games and far too many close calls to count, the Washington Capitals finally scored three goals in a hockey game. It could not have occurred at a better time.
Peter Bondra slammed a slap shot into the net with 72 seconds remaining in regulation Friday night and his team on a five-on-three power play, leading the Capitals to a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay at MCI Center. The Capitals (5-5-1) snapped a four-game winless streak -- they had one win in their last seven games -- as Tampa Bay, off to its best start in franchise history, lost for just the second time this season; the Lightning has lost 10 straight games here.
It appeared this would be another game of frustration for Washington, after hitting the post several times, dominating much of the contest -- and all of the third period -- and watching pucks skim ever so close to the net. But the struggling power play finally connected in the clutch, with Bondra finishing off a series of touch passes in the slot.
"It was a big goal for us," Bondra said. "I think the key, compared to before, was we moved the puck quickly. Just boom, boom, boom, and that's what makes the difference. Somebody has to be open, especially on the five-on-three, and that's what happened. I was open for the last shot."
That simplicity permeated Washington's game, something Coach Bruce Cassidy demanded.
"They bought into what we were trying to sell tonight," he said.
Washington netted the opening goal for just the third time in 11 games and played safe hockey, save for the odd turnover and taking too many penalties.
Team captain Steve Konowalchuk scored first, setting the tone about eight minutes in.
Center Robert Lang held off Tampa Bay center Tim Taylor behind the net and slipped a pass out front, where Konowalchuk banged it in. "That's something we practice, and sure enough it ends up in the net," Cassidy said.
The Capitals failed to build on that advantage, though, and have led by two goals only once this season.
The defensive pair of Sergei Gonchar and J.F. Fortin -- an ill-conceived coupling, perhaps -- was caught out of position, with Fortin challenging enforcer Andre Roy at the blueline. Fortin was beaten badly, leaving the right side of the ice vacant. Gonchar could not derail the two-on-one and Martin St. Louis swooped in on rookie goalie Sebastien Charpentier, who played admirably, and scored his seventh goal of the season, among NHL leaders.
"Other than a couple of turnovers tonight that cost us goals, we were pretty steady for the most part in our end and through the neutral zone and on the penalty kill," Cassidy said.
Washington could have pulled away on the power play, but is stuck in a rut. Chances were abundant, including a long five-on-three in the second period, but for all of their star power the Capitals could not click. Ranked first in the NHL a week ago, the power play is now 18th and dropping, in a 2-for-34 slump (1 for 8 Friday night).
"Maybe we need to change [the power-play alignment] around," winger Jaromir Jagr said, "and get a different look."
Another turnover at the blueline compounded those blown opportunities.
Defensemen Rick Berry and Steve Eminger, who turned 19 Thursday, headed up ice with the Capitals about to clear their zone, but Brian Sutherby, recalled from the minors yesterday morning, sent the puck weakly to the middle of the ice.
Tampa Bay defenseman Cory Sarich kept it from exiting the zone, catching the Capitals heading the wrong way, and found center Vincent Lecavalier alone in the crease for an elementary goal. Robert Lang responded for Washington midway through the game, taking a pass from Jagr and one-timing it past goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, setting the scene for a climatic final 20 minutes and a much-needed victory.
"They were better than us in the third period," Tampa Bay Coach John Tortorella said. "And that's what wins the game."