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by Dave Mishkin / Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning @ Washington Capitals

Just three days ago, Tampa Bay had several items on its to-do list. First, snap its six-game losing streak with a victory over Florida on Wednesday. Check. Next, win its first road game of the season by beating the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes. Check. Now, entering tonight’s game in Washington, the team has set its sights on extending the winning streak to three.

Frankly, the Lightning could easily be enjoying a five-game winning streak right now. In the final three games of the losing skid, the Lightning played well enough to win. What’s happened in the last two games, unlike the first three games of that stretch, is that they have gotten key plays at key times. One such sequence occurred late in the second period on Thursday at Raleigh. The Lightning had built a 3-0 lead, but for the first time in the contest, Carolina was beginning to bring consistent pressure. With less than eight minutes left in the period, the Hurricanes got their first power play opportunity and Johan Holmqvist was forced to make several critical stops, including an incredible glove save on Erik Cole. As Holmqvist told the Raleigh News and Observer after the game: “That’s what we talked about, breaking their momentum. If they get a goal there, what else was going to happen?”

Shortly after that successful penalty kill, momentum momentarily swung to the Lightning, as Vinny Lecavalier got loose on a breakaway and subsequently was awarded a penalty shot. But Cam Ward made the save, buoying the home team. On the very next shift, the Hurricanes drew a Shane O’Brien holding penalty. Once again, the Carolina power play generated several dangerous chances, but Holmqvist kept the puck out. As O’Brien left the box, he accepted a long pass from Andreas Karlsson and scored on a breakaway.

During his post-game news conference, John Tortorella referenced that particular sequence. The Lightning got key plays from Holmqvist and O’Brien to help neutralize Carolina’s comeback effort.

To keep it going against the Capitals, the Bolts again must defend well, put pressure on the Caps’ defense corps in the Washington end, receive another solid (if not spectacular) goaltending performance and make those aforementioned key plays at key times. Part of the Lightning’s game plan will be to limit Alex Ovechkin’s chances; the Russian superstar has 10 goals, twice as many as his next closest teammate. Generally, the Caps have struggled on offense, scoring three goals or less in 13 of their first 16 games. But they are capable of putting up big offensive numbers; in their last three wins, the Capitals have netted 16 goals, including five in an October 24 victory over Tampa Bay. Plus, they’re coming off an impressive win in Ottawa, a game in which the Caps scored four goals against one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league and held the prolific-scoring Senators to only one goal. That’s why a sound, defensive effort (that in turn allows the team to generate offensive chances) is critical for the Lightning tonight.

In addition to all of the components listed above, there is one final and important key to tonight’s game. Under the guidance of head coach Glen Hanlon, Washington plays hard every night (and therefore can be hard to play). As is always the case when the Bolts meet the Caps, Tampa Bay needs to exceed Washington’s work ethic.

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