WASHINGTON – Twice the Tampa Bay Lightning have come to Verizon Center this season to measure themselves against the recent rulers of the Southeast Division and were sent away wanting.
This time, the Lightning brought a new friend in goal and a renewed commitment to sound defensive play and the result was a vast improvement. Dwayne Roloson stopped 34 shots Tuesday night for a shutout in his first game since joining the team in trade and Martin St. Louis scored in overtime to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 victory against the Washington Capitals.
"They embarrassed us the last time we were in here. They beat us twice before and we wanted some revenge," Steven Stamkos said. "I thought we finally played our game against these guys. We've done it against other top teams, but we haven’t done it against them until tonight. I think they got a glimpse of what to expect from us the rest of the year."
Added coach Guy Boucher: "It is not the two points for me right now – it is the fact that we game in here and didn't try to run and gun it. The last two times, we were trying to have more skill than their skill guys and play their game. … Yesterday, that's what I told the players – we want a 0-0 game. I didn't necessarily expect a 0-0 game, but we wanted a 0-0 mentality and that's what we got. It is rewarding because we didn't create 100 turnovers like we did the last two times we were here and we made it hard for them. That was the whole idea coming here."
Each of these teams began the evening with 51 points, but Washington's 6-3 and 6-0 decisions against Tampa Bay earlier this season had left Boucher and his players looking forward to this meeting. Tampa Bay has now won nine of its past 11 contests and holds a one-point lead and a game in hand against Washington, which lost for only the second time in seven games.
Roloson was the biggest reason why on this night. Acquired three days ago from the New York Islanders for young defenseman Ty Wishart, the 41-year-old netminder was locked in a duel with a guy 18 years his junior, but prevailed.
Some of his best work came in the second period, when he turned aside 21 shots, including six during a pair of Washington power plays.
"We got a goalie of that caliber for a reason," Stamkos said. "He's proven in this League that he can be a great goalie and he showed that tonight. It was a great first impression for us obviously with the shutout and the big win."
The Lightning were among the League leaders in goals for, on the power play and the penalty kill, but the addition of Roloson could give them a big boost in the team's weakest categories this season -- like goals against and save percentage.
This was Roloson's 533rd career game in the NHL, and the seventh time he debuted with a team.
"No, not at all," Roloson said when asked if he was nervous. "I think our college coach said, 'If you're nervous, then you're not prepared.' So I was prepared for the game and just wanted to go out and relax and play my game. … You're just trying to worry about what you have to do to help the team win, especially with the new environment and everything else. There's a lot of different things going on so for me personally, I was just trying to focus on what I had to do and control the things I could control and give our guys a chance to win."
His counterpart at the other end of the ice, 22-year-old Semyon Varlamov, was equally as brilliant. Varlamov, who was named the NHL's first star for last week, stopped the first 37 shots he faced before becoming a tough-luck loser in the extra session.
Varlamov has started four straight contests for the Capitals and allowed a total of four goals in that time.
"I thought he played really good tonight," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Both goalies played really good tonight. If there was average goaltending, it would've been a 4-3 game. With two good goaltenders, it ended up 1-0."
Tampa Bay had all five shots in the overtime, and St. Louis tallied his 17th goal of the season to give the Lightning the extra point. Varlamov stopped Vinny Lecavalier's shot from the right wing, but he kicked the rebound to St. Louis, who had plenty of net to work with.
Defenseman Pavel Kubina collected Jeff Schultz's clearing attempt near center ice and carried it towards the right corner before dropping it off to Lecavalier.
"The puck came out of their zone and I hustled to stay onside," St. Louis said. "I thought we had a chance for a play and I wanted to give our guys a chance for a second opportunity. If I had gone for a change we'd have nobody driving [the net], so I just went to the middle and puck the just ended up on my stick."
Both of these teams are known for their offensive firepower, but both are also trying to be more committed to the details at their own end of the ice. Washington has now allowed just 14 goals in its past nine games, while Tampa Bay has yielded 17 in its past 10 contests.
"This is a team that likes to trade chances. They're an opportunistic bunch and that's something we didn't want to do," St. Louis said. "We didn't want to trade chances. We wanted to play a smart game, manage the puck and play our style. A 0-0 game – we're fine with that."
Added Alex Ovechkin: "[Varlamov] played great today. We played great in the defensive zone. We made one mistake and they used that mistake. It is a tough loss, but it is what it is."