Lightning 3, Capitals 1
Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig was face down on the ice, groggy and motionless, when the Tampa Bay Lightning scored its final goal tonight in a 3-1 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Ben Clymer plowed through the crease and his knee nailed Kolzig on the side of his head, then Vaclav Prospal stuffed the loose puck in the net with 85 seconds to play. Trainer Greg Smith rushed to the aid of Kolzig, who stayed down on the ice for several minutes, and eventually the goalie was helped off the ice while still hunched over, making way for backup Sebastien Charpentier, who finished the game.
As crucial as this loss was for Washington in the standings -- Tampa is only four points back for the Southeast Division lead with two games in hand -- losing Kolzig for any amount of time would be much more crushing. He is a franchise player, perhaps the team's most valuable this season, but hopes to be back on the ice shortly.
"I didn't black out but everything was a little fuzzy," Kolzig said after receiving medical treatment. "It's getting a little clearer now. I don't think there are any concussion issues, but I'm pretty sore around my neck and shoulders. We'll see how I feel when I wake up tomorrow, but I don't think it's anything long term."
Two controversial calls before that collision helped decide this game. Washington led entering the third period, but a rarely called delay-of-game penalty during a faceoff was handed to Jeff Halpern. Then Peter Bondra, who is struggling mightily, received a questionable boarding call to give Tampa a lengthy two-man advantage; Dan Boyle's one-timer skipped between Kolzig's pads, an uncharacteristic mistake by the goalie about two minutes into the period.
"[Officiating] had a direct effect on the outcome of the game with those two calls," Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "Especially the second one on Bondra. That's ridiculous. I watched it 10 times and he didn't do anything wrong. . . . The other one I think is a dumb rule that they've enforced on and off through the course of the year."
The Lightning, which had lost 16 of the past 19 games between these teams, took the lead on a rather routine shot. Fredrik Modin fired from quite a distance, Kolzig reacted late, and the puck went into the net on his stick side 107 seconds after Boyle's goal. Washington's anemic attack -- four goals over the past 11 periods -- could do little right and produced only four shots in the third period, as the club lost for the first time this season when leading at the second intermission (19-1-3-1).
"I thought we had the game under control," winger Jaromir Jagr said. "They scored two quick goals and we made some mistakes we shouldn't make. If we don't let them play five on three I don't think we lose the game. I still can't believe we lost."
The Capitals (outshot 30-15 tonight) did not start the game particularly well, but they did not fall behind either. Kolzig made one glorious save in the opening period, denying Modin on a breakaway, while Tampa goalie Nikolai Khabibulin had to do little more than retrieve the odd puck behind his net. Other than splendid penalty killing the Capitals left plenty of room for improvement.
Washington, which has lost two of its last three games against division opponents after losing two of its first 13 games against Southeast teams, was starved to attack in the second period as well, but scored the first goal anyway, with Jagr and Kip Miller assisting on Robert Lang's shot with less than two minutes to play in the period.
The Capitals' forwards and defensemen were vigilant in the neutral zone, playing a patient, trapping game, and neither team had much space to operate, but Tampa capitalized on an opportunity to get back in the game and pulled firmly back into the race for the division title as well.
"They're playing with confidence but they still have to catch us," winger Mike Grier said. "We're going home now for a good stretch and hopefully we can get our legs back under us and play a little but better hockey."