recap bolts

Late in the first period of Saturday’s game with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a hush fell over the crowd when Caps’ defenseman Nick Jensen was stretchered off the ice following a reckless, dangerous and unpenalized shove from Lightning forward Mikey Eyssimont. The shove sent Jensen careening into the boards awkwardly in front of the player benches, and he came to rest on his back, with no movement. The game was even at 2-2 at that point, with 1:31 left in the opening period, and the officials opted to send both teams to the room for intermission at that point.

During that impromptu intermission, down to five defensemen for the rest of the way, the Caps vowed they’d play the rest of the game the way Jensen plays: hard, and at top speed, full throttle. When the dust settled, the Caps had their second win in three games, a 4-2 victory over the Lightning.

Sonny Milano scored twice, John Carlson notched a big franchise milestone by netting the game-winner midway through the third, and Charlie Lindgren turned in another in a series of excellent performances in the Washington net, helping the team to two critical points.

After losing Jensen for the remainder of the game, the Caps played with a hard edge for the remainder of the game, but they played with an edge; they didn’t play on the edge. They finished every check and they made sure that with every hit they laid on every Tampa Bay skater, the Lightning could feel what Jensen means to them.

“That was a really good effort tonight,” says Lindgren, who stopped 32 shots to earn his 23rd victory of the season. “Obviously getting a couple of goals early, with Sonny Milano getting us going there, and they answered back.

“After seeing what happened with Jensen there, [it was] very, very difficult to see. We all know how hard he works, so I think when that happened, we went to the room and regathered ourselves a little bit. And at the end of the day, we just wanted to play like Jensen, and that’s hard, and it’s the right way, and I thought we did that.”

Following the game, Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery gave the media on update on the fallen blueliner’s condition.

“Scary situation,” says Carbery. “He’s doing better though, than initially when you see something like that. When someone is stretchered off, you’re thinking of the worst-case situations, and he’s doing better. He walked out of the building with his family tonight. He didn’t go to the hospital, so that was very, very positive.

“Obviously, he is going to be out. But good that he was able to walk out of the building with his family.”

And midway through the second, Caps’ center Nic Dowd took Eyssimont to task for his transgression, giving him a fistic tune-up off a face-off in the Tampa Bay end. After Dowd finished pummeling Eyssimont, he looked over at the approving Washington bench and made his way to the box. The Caps weren’t going to lose this game.

Following the game, Dowd was a bit emotional when asked about standing up for his longtime teammate at both St. Cloud St. and here in the District.

“Obviously you’re really upset, but when I see Jens laying on the ice like that, it’s tough to see,” says Dowd. “He’s been a friend of mine for a long time, our kids grew up together and were born around the same time. I know his family really well. Seeing anybody in a vulnerable state like that is challenging. But he’s a tough guy. I’m glad to know that he’s doing better now.”

Washington jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Milano’s first goal of the game at 9:56 of the first. Milano’s linemate Max Pacioretty finished a check on Bolts’ blueliner Darren Raddysh along the half wall in Tampa Bay ice, blunting an exit bid and extending a Washington offensive zone shift. A couple of plays later, Pacioretty found Milano on the weak side, and the latter put a backhander home to give the Caps the lead.

Tampa Bay pulled even just a couple of minutes later, taking advantage of an unnecessary icing by the Caps. Seconds after the Lightning won the ensuing right dot draw in Washington ice, Raddysh sifted a right point shot toward the net; it was deflected twice, first by Brayden Point and then by Anthony Duclair, whose deflection squared the score at 1-1 at 13:06.

Milano got that one back just 54 seconds later, finding a rebound of a Dylan Strome shot and burying it to restore the Caps’ lead.

Again, the Lightning answered back quickly. Caps’ center Hendrix Lapierre lost the handle high in the Washington zone, and a couple of quick plays by Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos got the puck to Brandon Hagel in the middle of the ice. Hagel put some air under backhander, putting it just under the bar to knot the score again, making it 2-2 at 16:24.

Just over two minutes later, Jensen was on his back, motionless on the ice. The stretcher came out almost immediately, and Eyssimont was ushered to the penalty box, where he sat until officials decided that his actions were well within the letter of the law and there would be no penalty on the play.

Once Jensen was safely on the stretcher and wheeled off for more direct medical care, the teams were sent to their respective rooms.

When play reconvened, the Caps were an even more determined bunch than the one that took the ice for the opening face-off. Washington had been credited with a total of 15 hits to that point of the game, and it laid another 41 thereafter for a game total of 56, the most any single team in any single NHL game this season.

Tampa Bay, which had averaged 4.27 goals per game over its previous 15 games, would not find the back of the net again. Washington, which had been limited to two or fewer goals in each of its previous eight games – just one game shy of matching a dubious franchise mark – needed to find one in order to get the two points it desperately needed.

The window of opportunity opened in the third period when the Bolts took a couple of minor penalties in short succession, giving Washington a 5-on-3 manpower advantage for 67 seconds. Soon after the expiration of that first penalty, John Carlson did what he does, coming up big when it matters most. Carlson ripped a shot to the top right corner of the cage, and his power-play goal lifted the Caps back into the lead at 8:29 of the final frame.

The goal was the 150th of Carlson’s NHL career, one more than longtime Washington defenseman Kevin Hatcher (149) had during his tenure here. In his 15th season with the Caps, Carlson overtook Hatcher for most goals by a Washington defenseman.

“That’s cool, too,” says Carlson, referring to the record. “But I’m just worried about battling to get into the playoffs. It’s cool to have the record, too, and all, but I’m just excited for the team tonight.”

Dowd bagged a big insurance goal for his buddy with 3:14 left in the third, giving Lindgren and the Caps some welcome breathing room the rest of the way.

While media waited to get into the Washington locker room after the game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper – who coached Jensen for two seasons with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers – came to the Washington room to see if he could speak with the fallen defenseman, but he was no longer on the premises.

“It’s tough to see anybody [in that situation],” says Cooper. “He’s a special kid for me; we won a championship in the USHL together. He’s awesome. And those are just tough ones to see, especially because of the result of the hit. It wasn’t penalized – nor should it have been – it was just a tough one all the way around.”