The Washington Capitals aren't going to give up their status as kings of the Southeast Division without a fight.
The Caps got 2 goals and 2 assists from Nicklas Backstrom and a goal and 3 assists from Alex Ovechkin to cool off Tampa Bay 5-2 on Friday night. The three-time division champs ended the Lightning's six-game winning streak and cut the Bolts' lead to three points.
"This game was very important for both teams," Ovechkin said. "They're in first place, and we want to be in their spot."
Added Backstrom: "It was a big two points for us. It felt a little like a playoff game. "
The Lightning shut out Washington twice in just over a week last month after acquiring goalie Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders on Jan. 1. Coach Guy Boucher said the effort his team showed in those games was nowhere to be found on Friday.
"Last two times we played these guys, we shut them out. We just shut out (Philadelphia), and there was absolutely no urgency in our game," an unhappy Boucher said. "It's a lack of respect for the opponent. (Washington) kept saying they had to play the game of their season, and they did. They deserved everything that happened to them tonight. They played great.
"We just glided into the offensive zone, waiting for easy breaks."
Washington came to the St. Pete Times Forum with an 0-1-2 mark in its last three games, having scored just three times in that span. They matched that total before the game was half over.
"We scored on the power play. We scored on a lot of the chances we had," said Backstrom, who like Ovechkin has seen his scoring totals decline from last season. "It was enough for two points."
The Caps also changed their strategy, occasionally keeping the puck in their zone until Tampa Bay, which used a 1-3-1 defensive setup in the neutral zone, sent in a forechecker.
"I don't know if it was kind of a mockery of our system or a game plan, but they obviously had a couple days to prepare for the game and then that's what they thought best," Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos said. "It killed some time, so I guess it was successful that way. Obviously, a first for us seeing a team try that."
Said Washington coach Bruce Boudreau: "It's only good when you're leading. It was something we tried because nothing seemed to work before. He'll [Boucher] figure something out to stop that, but it worked for one night."
The Capitals had the first six shots of the game, but Tampa Bay scored on its first shot when Teddy Purcell beat Semyon Varlamov at 3:21. Washington tied it at 9:09 when Backstrom and Ovechkin drove to the net and Backstrom got his stick on a loose puck to knock it past Dwayne Roloson.
It was the Caps' first goal in 139 minutes and 22 seconds against the Lightning, and their first in three games against Roloson.
"I think he played great against us the last two games," Ovechkin said. "He's a great goalie, but he had some luck. Tonight luck was on our side."
Brooks Laich put the Caps ahead to stay at 6:38 with a beautiful backhander from the slot that beat Roloson past the glove and tucked under the crossbar. Ovechkin then took advantage of a screen by Laich -- who was battling with Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman in front of Roloson -- and whipped home a power-play shot from near the top of the left circle at 8:25. It was his first power-play goal in 41 games.
Brett Clark's power-play deflection at 19:19 cut the Caps' lead to 3-2, but Backstrom scored with 8:38 remaining and Ovechkin gave up a chance for his second of the night by opting to feed Jason Chimera for the empty-netter with 38 seconds left.
Boucher promised a better effort on Sunday, when the Bolts host St. Louis.
"We lacked respect for our fans in the first period," he said. "That is not going to happen on Sunday."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report