Lightning 4, Capitals 3
Debris littered MCI Center's ice last night when Vincent Lecavalier scored in overtime to give Tampa Bay a 4-3 victory over Washington. The Capitals, whose lead in this best-of-seven first-round series was cut to 2-1, began storming after the referees.
Lecavalier, whose revamped first line connected for all four of the Lightning's goals, scored his second goal of the game on a rebound with his team on a five-on-three power play, a rare occurrence in the playoffs.
Jaromir Jagr was called for roughing in the offensive zone early in overtime and less than a minute later defenseman Ken Klee joined him in the penalty box for a more blatant elbow on Dave Andreychuk. The call prompted Klee to go to referees Dennis LaRue and Bill McCreary with a futile protest.
Tampa Bay had a two-man advantage for 66 seconds and needed 17 seconds to cut Washington's series lead in half. Game 4 is tonight at MCI Center.
"I haven't seen too many five-on-threes in overtime, but they call them the way they see them," Washington Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "I'm not going to cry about it, but I don't agree with the call on Jagr."
Cassidy pushed for the go-ahead goal in the third period with the game tied at 2, double-shifting his top line as a win would all but ensure a trip to the second round. But speedy Martin St. Louis, invisible the first two games but a dervish when paired with Lecavalier and Vaclav Prospal last night, slipped between defensemen Jason Doig and Joel Kwiatkowski, broke in on goalie Olaf Kolzig and beat him with a long wrist shot with just over eight minutes to play, getting the puck past Kolzig's glove to the near side.
"When you're down 2-0 in a series you have to try different things," St. Louis said of his new line. "Tonight it worked."
Peter Bondra nailed the crossbar off the rush three minutes later and with three minutes to play Jagr retrieved the puck behind the net and passed to the slot before taking a vicious shot to the head by defenseman Pavel Kubina ("I don't believe that was a clean hit," Jagr said). As Jagr writhed on the ice, defenseman Brendan Witt met his pass and sent a booming slap shot into the net, handcuffing goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
"Definitely, we felt good going to overtime after we tied the game three times," Bondra said. "Unfortunately, we went two men short in overtime and that was it. It's tough for us, but good thing we play the next game [tonight]."
The Lightning, which had lost 11 straight games at MCI Center, took its first lead of the series about four minutes into the first period. Washington had its five best defensive players on the ice, center Jeff Halpern won a draw back behind his net and the forwards readied for a breakout pass, believing their defensemen would get the puck.
But St. Louis was first to the loose puck and Halpern failed to follow Lecavalier to the slot, where he scored easily. That began a seven-point night for Lecavalier's line. After two poor games, Tampa Bay finally had a potent first line that bettered Washington's checkers.
"That line carried the load for them," winger Mike Grier said. "Whether it's our line [with Halpern and Steve Konowalchuk] or someone else's line, we're going to have to do a better job on them tomorrow and for the rest of the series."
Dainius Zubrus almost tied the game on a short-handed breakaway about 12 minutes in, but was hauled down by Prospal and Brad Richards. Grier somehow missed putting in the rebound, Zubrus was awarded a penalty shot and he fired wide of the net. (Washington is 0 for 4 in playoff penalty shots).
For Zubrus, redemption came quick. Tampa Bay defensemen Stan Neckar and Cory Sarich fumbled the puck and Zubrus put a shot between Khabibulin's legs to tie the game. However Halpern's line, along with top defensemen Calle Johansson and Witt, were stung by Lecavalier's line again early in the second period.
This time Halpern was thrown out of the face-off dot, Grier lost the draw to Lecavalier and the Lightning won several battles along the boards. St. Louis spun free from Johansson behind the net, Prospal got a step ahead of Witt and he scored from close range less than four minutes into the second period.
Cassidy immediately broke up his checking line, adding Bondra's speed to Halpern and Konowalchuk and moving Grier to the second line.
"We have to somehow shadow those three guys, because they were awesome tonight," Jagr said of Lecavalier's line.
"We couldn't find an answer for them tonight," Cassidy said. "They were the difference."
Zubrus, who had not scored a playoff goal since 1997 before last night (21 games), added his second of the game on a nifty deflection of Jagr's pass to tie the score again midway through the game. But Lecavalier's line, and a strange power play, ultimately settled things.