Lightning 4, Capitals 2
Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
-- Alex Ovechkin scored two goals, including a short-handed one, and Olie Kolzig was the best player on the ice.
But 55 minutes of inspired hockey wasn't enough for the Washington Capitals, who saw it all unravel the way it had so many times before: a defensive lapse, a penalty, a bad bounce and, ultimately, a gut-wrenching 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night at St. Pete Times Forum in front of 20,722.
"We're playing a lot better, but it's still a loss," Capitals captain Jeff Halpern said. "We had a breakdown at the end of the second. Then they had a power play at the end and they scored. That was the difference in that game."
After taking 1-0 and 2-1 leads, it appeared the momentum from the Capitals' victory Wednesday over the Buffalo Sabres would carry them to their first back-to-back wins. But a couple of missteps made sure it didn't materialize.
Lightning star Martin St. Louis turned a defensive breakdown into the Tampa Bay's second goal, and Vincent Lecavalier scored on the winner on the power play with 5 minutes 7 seconds remaining. Lecavalier's slap shot ricocheted off the knee of Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and past an unsuspecting Kolzig (24 saves).
"It went off Mo," said Capitals defenseman Brendan Witt, who was in the penalty box for hooking when Lecavalier scored. "What are you going to do? We couldn't let Lecavalier score on a half breakaway. We had to take the penalty. I took him down and they got a lucky bounce."
The loss could deal the Capitals a double blow. Matt Bradley, one of the team's best penalty-killers, appeared to suffer a lower body injury in the second period. He did not return to the ice after his second shift of the middle frame and was seen walking gingerly to the team bus afterward. Dainius Zubrus, meantime, also appeared to get hurt; he played only two shifts in the third period. Team officials declined to divulge the nature of the injures.
Ovechkin's first goal started with a heady play by defenseman Morrisonn, who spotted Ovechkin at center ice and made a precise pass across two lines. Ovechkin out-skated Tampa Bay defenseman Nolan Pratt and beat Sean Burke's glove hand to put the Capitals ahead 1-0 three minutes into the game.
Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle evened the score 1-1 less than a minute later, but Ovechkin restored the Capitals lead, 2-1, with a short-handed goal later in the period. Ovechkin picked up the puck at center ice after it deflected off Tampa Bay's Pavel Kubina and skated in on another breakaway. This time, he used a stutter step to fake Burke (12 saves) to the ice, then slipped the puck behind the goalie.
Kolzig did his best to keep it that way, but St. Louis's shot, which came with fewer than two minutes remaining in the second period, was nearly unstoppable and he couldn't have reacted fast enough to stop puck after it bounced off of Morrisonn.
"That was great game of goaltending from Olie again," Coach Glen Hanlon said. "There were three saves that were just steals."
The Lightning's Vaclav Prospal added an empty net goal in the final seconds.
Capitals Notes: Ted Leonsis, the club's majority owner, addressed a wide range of topics in his latest 'Owners' Corner', including the rebuilding team's long-term outlook and its sagging attendance. "WE ARE NOT MOVING," he wrote in the newsletter, posted Friday on the team's Web site. "We are committed to making this work." Leonsis continued: "As you have seen, our attendance is down, and we expected it -- the lockout, our strategy to reconstruct the makeup of our team and the arrival of the Nationals' baseball club have contributed to our reduced attendance." The Capitals distribute an average of 12,312 tickets per game, which ranks last among the league's 30 teams, and includes "paid and complimentary" tickets. Leonsis wrote the season ticket base is "about 7,000" and approximately 1,000 tickets per game are given away in an attempt "to attract new fans and sponsors.". . . .
Next month the Capitals will begin offering a package of four Eagles' Nest tickets for $20. The Eagles' Nest consists of 2,000 seats in the end zone of MCI Center. . . . Defensemen Bryan Muir (groin) and Mathieu Biron (healthy scratch) were out.