WASHINGTON - It's hard to believe that just four days ago the Washington Capitals were smarting from their second five-goal loss in three games while the Tampa Bay Lightning were gaining ground on them in the Southeast Division standings.
Alexander Semin had a natural hat trick and the Capitals stifled Steven Stamkos and the Lightning offense in a 6-0 dismantling Friday night at Verizon Center. Washington pushed its lead over Tampa Bay to six points in the division and moved past Philadelphia for the most points in the League with its second straight win.
"I think the guys were [upset]," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We took a lot of heat this week, a lot of flak and I think that is a proud bunch in there. The week isn't over yet, but they knew they were better than what they had shown."
Added captain Alex Ovechkin: "We played good defensively, the power play works and the PK did an unbelievable job. I think we played a good, solid 60 minutes."
The Capitals put together a complete performance that approached perfection. They held the Lightning to 17 shots on goal -- none in the first six minutes of both the first and third periods.
Washington scored twice in four power-play opportunities on a pair of perfect passing displays. The Capitals thwarted five extra-man chances for the Lightning, including a 71-second two-man advantage in the second period.
Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and rookie Marcus Johansson had a pair of assists, and three different defensemen scored goals.
"I think we came out right from the get go and we just kept going," Backstrom said. "I think we played a great game today. … It's a long season and you're going to have your ups and downs. Hopefully [the 5-0 losses to Atlanta and New Jersey] were our down period and we can work our way back up again. It feels like we are back on track."
If it was as well as Washington could play, the opposite might be said about the Lightning. This was a pretty even contest in the first 20 minutes, but a defensive breakdown followed back-to-back-to-back penalties by Tampa Bay and a one-goal deficit ballooned to four in a hurry.
Stamkos leads the NHL with 21 goals but was held to one shot on goal and lost eight of 11 faceoffs. It was only the second time this season he failed to produce a point or more than one shot on net. The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Lightning and was the second in as many contests against the team they are chasing for Southeast supremacy.
"It would be easy to point the finger at some guys but the reality is we have to point the finger at every single player that was there," coach Guy Boucher said. "Everything that we did well to beat other teams the last five games wasn't there tonight and I saw it in the first five minutes."
Semin scored his three goals in less than five minutes of the second period -- all on wicked one-timers. After some end-to-end action the Capitals had a 2-on-1 and Marcus Johansson sent a saucer pass to Semin for his first of the game at 6:52. It was Johansson's second assist of the game for his first career multi-point effort and gave the Capitals a 3-0 lead.
"It was about time," Johansson said. "I think it was good to get a couple. That makes you even more comfortable. I felt some games I wasn't where I used to be [in Sweden] like how comfortable I am to hold the puck until the last second like I did on that pass to [Semin] on the goal there. It is all about how you feel and It feels like I am getting better and better."
Semin's second came on a perfect tic-tac-toe play. Ovechkin sent the puck to Backstrom and his slap-pass to Semin was converted at 8:56 with Washington on the power play.
Semin completed the natural hat trick at 11:21. The Capitals had a two-man advantage and Semin missed Backstrom's first cross-ice pass -- but he buried the second one. Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina had his stick on the ice and thought he had the angle right, but Semin drifted a little closer to the goal line and Backstrom hit him for a shot from a severe angle.
It was Semin's second hat trick of the season against Tampa Bay and third of the season. They have come in a span of 35 days - the previous team record was 60 days for Peter Bondra in 1996, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Semin is a natural left wing but has played on the right side for most of the past four seasons so his time on ice wasn't affected by Ovechkin's. He played on the left side in this game on the second line because Ovechkin was at right wing for a second straight contest.
"The goals were not really anything unusual because the first one was just a 2-on-1 break and the other ones were power-play goals and I do usually play there on the power play," Semin said through a translator. "It was a little bit unusual for me [on the left side]. I lost myself in a couple situations but we'll figure it out."
Washington was without top defenseman Mike Green because of an upper-body injury, but John Carlson, John Erskine and Tom Poti all scored goals in his absence. Carlson and Poti had outstanding games at both ends of the ice. Both played more than 24 minutes and both were credited with three blocked shots. Carlson made a couple of nice defensive plays during a wide-open first period and Poti anchored the penalty kill during the critical 3-on-5.
"We just got outworked today - plain and simple," Stamkos said. "There's nothing more to say."
Added Boudreau: "The game in Carolina [a 3-2 victory Wednesday night] was a stepping stone to this game. We played really good in Carolina except for seven or five minutes in the third period. They were determined in the third not to let this one get to a 6-2 or 6-3 game."