For nearly 30 minutes, the Lightning looked well on their way, up 3-0, a gratifying win over a team that had given them plenty of problems over the past couple years within reach.
But the Verizon Center continues to vex the Bolts, who had lost two-straight in the building coming into the game and were 15-34-6 with four ties all-time in D.C.
So too does the Capitals dangerous power play, led by marksman Alex Ovechkin.
Like they did three weeks earlier when the two teams met for the first time this season, Washington scored three goals on the advantage to take control. The Caps rallied from a three-goal deficit for the first time since 2008, defeating the Bolts 5-3, a demoralizing finish to a promising road trip.
The Capitals completed a three-game season sweep of the Lightning with their win.
Tampa Bay will quickly try to erase the bitter memory of Friday’s loss; the Ottawa Senators come to Amalie Arena on Sunday, an opportunity for the Bolts to redeem themselves and get back in the win column against a divisional foe.
Observations from a frustrating finish ahead.
- During Jon Cooper’s pregame meeting with the media, the Lightning head coach reiterated the importance of keeping the Capitals off of the power play. Cooper mentioned his team’s 5-on-5 success against Washington, but special teams had been the difference in the first two games this season between the teams, the Caps victimizing the Bolts on the advantage.
“If we beat them in the special team wars, I think we’ve got a chance to win the game, that’s basically what it boils down to,” Cooper said.
Cooper’s words would ring prophetic about four hours later when the Caps scored their third power-play goal on Marcus Johansson’s go-ahead goal with 5:44 to go in the game.
- Santa Claus was the guest singer at Friday’s game and belted out the notes to the Star-Spangled Banner through a thick white beard.
Which made me wonder: were the children in attendance happy to get an early glimpse at the man responsible for bringing them gifts on Christmas morning, or was there concern he wouldn’t be able to complete his preparations because he was too busy hanging out at NHL games?
- Alex Killorn displayed a great deal of patience to score the first goal 8:18 into the opening period. Killorn got the puck in the slot and had an open look at goal, but the forward skated closer to goal for a better shot until, eventually, Caps goalie Braden Holtby dropped down onto his knees and stomach to try to poke the puck away.
Killorn wheeled around the fallen goalie to get a look at an open net then deposited the puck at the post to put the Bolts up 1-0.
Killorn’s goal was his fifth of the season and first since November 28 versus the New York Islanders.
- Washington scored four-straight goals to build an insurmountable lead in the first meeting between the two teams on November 28. The Caps were up 2-0 six nights ago at Amalie Arena. The Bolts couldn’t rally from that deficit either, Nikita Kucherov scoring the lone goal in their comeback bid.
The Lightning were determined to get off to a fast start Friday.
After Killorn scored first, Andrej Sustr tallied his first goal of the season and first since Game 2 of a First Round series against the Detroit Red Wings in 2014-15. The 6-foot-8 defenseman glided toward goal with the puck and unleased a shot from the right dot that grazed iron but found the back of the net.
“I’ve played about 130 games in the league now, and I’ve kind of learned how to pick your spots and how to put yourself in those (scoring) positions,” Sustr said after the game.
Sustr had two assists in the win over Toronto on Tuesday and has tallied three points in two games. Sustr came into the road trip with three points through 28 games.
- Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos had registered just eight shots total in seven games prior to playing the Caps. Stamkos’ goal drought had reached 10 games.
“Sometimes when you’re not scoring, you all of a sudden, maybe it gets in your head that, ‘This may not go in for me. I’ve got to pass this,’” Cooper said. “And, for us, we’ve got to keep reminding Steven he’s a shooter…If you have one shot a game and don’t score, that’s one thing. When you have six shots in the game and don’t score, you’re putting yourself in really good situations and eventually they’re going to go in.”
Stamkos heeded his coach’s advice, sending five shots on goal, his most since November 28 versus the New York Islanders. The center was rewarded with his 12th goal of the season, breaking his scoring slump and chasing Caps goalie Braden Holtby from the game.
“Sometimes when you go through a stretch like this, you forget to have fun,” Stamkos said postgame.
The Lightning were certainly having fun at the time, Stamkos’ goal putting the Bolts up 3-0.
The festivities wouldn’t last long, however.
- Washington finally got its power play cranking in the second, Ovechkin converting midway through the period to breathe life into a silent Verizon Center. The Caps had the advantage courtesy of a dubious call on Stamkos, who still wasn’t sure what he had done wrong following the game.
“It was a soft call in my opinion,” Stamkos said.
- The big swing in momentum came early in the third period when the Lightning were denied a chance to go up 4-1 following a tremendous save from Caps backup goalie Philipp Grubauer. On the ensuing rush for Washington, T.J. Oshie sprinted down the right wing and snapped a shot high over Ben Bishop’s glove to cut the deficit to 3-2 and send the Verizon Center into a frenzy. At that point, the Bolts were holding on for dear life.
- They wouldn’t hold on much longer. Victor Hedman went to the penalty box after sticking up for a helmetless J.T. Brown.
The video board at the Verizon Center played a video clip from the movie Road Trip, when Tom Green plucks a guitar string and screams, “Unleash the fury.” Washington fans shouted the line in unison, and the Caps, perhaps buoyed by the crowd’s energy, responded, Ovechkin dangling his way to the net before beating a bewildered Bishop to tie the game 3-3.
The Lightning entered the third period hoping to secure a win.
Following Ovechkin’s second goal of the night, they were just trying to leave D.C. with a point.
- That point never materialized.
Anton Stralman tripped Dmitry Orlov as he skated into the Bolts’ zone, and it was just a matter of time before the Caps took the lead. Johansson found an open spot near the back post, shot past Bishop and the comeback was complete.
Oshie added an empty-net goal in the game’s closing seconds to add an exclamation point to the remarkable turnaround.