For the Washington Capitals, Tampa is a Mentors' Trip hot spot. For the fifth time in five visits here with dads and mentors here over the years, the Caps came out of Amalie Arena with two points after a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
Making his first career start against the Lightning, playing an NHL game in front of his dad for the first time, and facing fellow Russian netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy at the opposite end of the ice, Caps goalie Ilya Samsonov turned in a terrific performance, stopping 26 shots to improve to 8-2-1 on the season.
Video: Balanced attack, Samsonov lead Caps past Lightning
"I feel good all game," says Samsonov. "It's important because we have the fathers' trip. It's a really important win today, awesome job by the [penalty kill]. It's a really good team win."
All four Washington lines scored at even strength, and the Caps' defense weathered a furious Tampa Bay push in the middle frame when the Lightning's lethal power play went on the ice four different times.
"The second period we got into penalty trouble and spent quite a bit of time in the [defensive zone]," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We regrouped, we talked about it between the second and the third; we weren't happy with how that went and it was up to us to get back to our game for the third period. And we were able to do that, and come out with the outcome that we wanted."
Video: Reirden Postgame | December 14
The Caps came out a little flat in the early minutes of Saturday night's game, but fortunately for them, Samsonov was on top of his game early. He made a pair of dandy stops - a right pad denial of Anthony Cirelli and a left toe stop on Mikhail Sergachev - in the first three minutes to keep the Bolts off the board.
Washington was gifted an early 1-0 lead at 6:42 of the first. Following a second straight strong forechecking shift from the Caps' fourth line, Alex Ovechkin put some forechecking heat of his own on Bolts blueliner Jan Rutta behind the Tampa Bay cage. Rutta hurried his play, and coughed up the puck to Nicklas Backstrom, who was just above the paint. Backstrom quickly snapped a shot past a stunned Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Caps the lead.
Once again in the second, the Caps came out a bit flat. This time, Tampa Bay took advantage and tied the game. The Bolts drew a power play in the second minute of the second, and the Caps killed that one. Soon after, Tampa Bay's fourth line scored only to have the goal called back because Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph made contact with Samsonov in the paint.
But less than a minute after that positive break, the Caps put themselves in penalty peril once again when a Backstrom clearing bid failed to catch glass.
Tampa Bay's Brayden Point scored a pretty goal off the rush - aided by a strong backhand feed from Alex Killorn -- on the ensuing power play, tying the game at 1-1 at 5:45 of the second.
Washington went shorthanded twice more in the middle frame, managing to kill both of those minors against the league's second most potent power play. The Caps were also severely hemmed into their own end for a lengthy stretch in between those two shorthanded missions. As a result, the defensive duo of Radko Gudas and Jonas Siegenthaler had a shift of 3:36 in length, with Lars Eller (3:23) and Garnet Hathaway (2:41) not far behind.
The first couple minutes of the third were dicey for the Caps as well, as they iced the puck twice and needed a big save from Samsonov on Killorn from in close to keep the game even.
Having dodged that danger, the Caps quickly regained the lead for good.
Video: WSH@TBL: Eller, Hathaway score 44 seconds apart
Dmitry Orlov picked off an errant Tampa Bay breakout feed in neutral ice, and he sent Richard Panik back into the Bolts' zone. From the slot, Panik made a perfect feed to Eller, who whipped a one-timer past Vasilevskiy from the right dot to make it a 2-1 game at 1:58 of the third. Eller's shot was just the second on Vasilevskiy in a span of more than 10 minutes, dating back to the middle of the second.
The Caps quickly added to their lead less than a minute later when their crack fourth line delivered what would prove to be the game-winner. Gudas sent Brendan Leipsic up ice on the left side with a crisp breakout feed, and Leipsic put it right on Hathaway's tape. The big winger then chipped a backhander behind Vasilevsky before hurtling through the air for another installment in his continuing series of prone goal celebrations at 2:43, a mere 45 seconds after Eller's marker.
With 8:44 left in the third, Rutta made it 3-2, slipping a shot through traffic and Samsonov to atone for his gaffe on Washington's first goal.
The Caps answered back quickly just 63 seconds later on a T.J. Oshie wraparound goal off the rush, giving all four Washington lines an even-strength goal in the game.
Video: Postgame | December 14
"It's important getting contributions throughout the lineup," says Leipsic. "It's not going to happen like that every night. But coming into a tough building, Lar got us going there to start off the third. We didn't have the second we wanted; we were in the box too much. But we got back to our game, we got pucks deep, we were rolling everybody out."
In the game's final minute, Tom Wilson scored into an empty net to account for the 5-2 final score.
For the second time in three nights, the Caps toppled one of the Atlantic Division's top teams, doing so with everyone on board.
"We were pretty focused right from puck drop," says Leipsic. "It adds a little bit with the dads in town, obviously. Saturday night against a good team, and we were ready to go."