Most of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning was far from the Washington debut Vokoun had envisioned. He gave up soft goals, had a puck deflect off a defenseman in front of him and into the net and rarely had bounces go his way. Ultimately, however, it was Vokoun who helped ensure the Capitals would capture two points.
Vokoun made five of his 23 saves in overtime and stopped two Lightning attempts in the shootout after a rocky start as Washington clinched a 6-5 win, aided by tallies from Alexander Semin and Matt Hendricks in the shootout.
Even though he wound up victorious in his first game as a Capital, the 35-year-old Czech was honest, and harsh, about his performance.
“It just shows how strong this team is. They literally won today without goaltending,” Vokoun said. “It was a bad game obviously, two or three soft goals. What can I say? It’s over with. I’ve just got to work more and be a lot better next time, that’s as simple as that. I’m old enough to know you’re going to go through bad games and bad breaks and you just don’t want to have too many of them.”
The first meeting between the Southeast Division rivals since Tampa Bay knocked out the Capitals in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring didn’t want for a frenetic pace or physicality. There was plenty of traffic and jostling in front of Vokoun and Dwayne Roloson (38 saves) all evening. Both teams took advantage of the tactic.
Four of Washington’s five goals in regulation came with bodies in blue paint, including a pair in the third period by Jason Chimera, who along with Marcus Johansson finished the game tied for the team high in points with two. But before Washington established itself, the Lightning began to prey on Vokoun.
A pass from the corner to the top of the crease ricocheted off Mike Green’s right skate and past Vokoun, giving the Lightning a 1-0 lead on a goal that was credited to Teddy Purcell just 2 minutes 22 seconds into the contest. Johansson added an equalizer, making his case to never be a healthy scratch again after sitting out in the home opener. Johansson poked the puck away from Roloson, who dove out of the net to make a save and finished with a nice wraparound play to make it 1-1.
But then Bruno Gervais put Tampa Bay up 2-1 before nine minutes elapsed with a shot from the corner that banked in off of Vokoun.
“There was three fluky goals, I think, on Voks,” Chimera said. “I think for most of the game, we carried the play and we played a pretty solid game. . . . We were down lots, but kept coming back, kept coming back.”
Dennis Wideman tied it up with a quick shot from the point with Hendricks in front to make it 2-2 heading into intermission.
What was already a rough start to Vokoun’s time as a Capital didn’t improve at the start of the second period. Dominic Moore beat him short side to put the Lightning ahead 3-2 only 56 seconds into the frame. Not long after giving up the goal, though, Vokoun made a tricky stick save on Ryan Malone that prevented Tampa Bay from taking a larger lead and finally it looked as though the veteran goaltender was finding his comfort zone.
Troy Brouwer became the first of the Capitals’ offseason acquisitions to score a goal this year when his shot beat Roloson, who was screened on the play by Joel Ward to make it 3-3 at 3:42 of the second. Chimera’s first goal of the game in the third gave Washington its first lead of the game but a deflection by Nate Thompson and then another bank-shot marker, this time by Brett Clark made it 5-4 in favor of Tampa Bay.
Chimera evened things up to force overtime. That’s when Vokoun was at his most poised, making numerous point-blank saves, including one in front by Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier to make sure Washington would come out with a win.
“It takes a guy with a lot of, you know, mental toughness to play like that,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When I’ve gotta believe if it was me, I’d be so mentally out of it — you touch the puck and the crowd’s booing ya, it’s your first game in there and you want to make an impression. . . . He comes up and makes those big saves and then he makes the save in the shootout.
“So it told me a lot about his character, it ends up as a positive thing even if he didn’t have a positive game for the most part.”