The Washington Capitals played a meaningful hockey game for the first time since March 9, but the result reintroduced starved fans to a less desirable aspect of sports: the agony of defeat.
Shootout master T.J. Oshie put the Capitals ahead in the first round of attempts with a slick handle in front of the crease before popping the puck over goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s shoulder.
But Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each scored for Tampa Bay while Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom missed on their respective turns.
Kuznetsov and Richard Panik scored goals in regulation to erase a 2-0 deficit, and Braden Holtby made 26 saves. The Capitals gained one standings point and are 0-0-1 in the seeding round-robin portion of the tournament.
“We weren’t expecting perfection this game,” Holtby said, “but I think the important part is I think the first part of periods, they got some action and we didn’t panic. We righted the ship. So I think that’s important.”
The Capitals played without defenseman John Carlson, the Norris Trophy finalist who last week suffered an undisclosed injury during Washington’s exhibition game against the Carolina Hurricanes from sliding awkwardly into the boards. Carlson practiced over the weekend, but he was a game-time decision and coach Todd Reirden held him out. Radko Gudas played in Carlson’s place.
Washington’s defense seemed to hold up for much of the first period until Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring. Lars Eller fumbled the puck in the neutral zone, and the Lightning passed it around to Kucherov, who evaded Michal Kempny’s defense with a stick move and sniped his shot in the top-right corner, unstoppable for Holtby.
Tampa Bay made it 2-0 in the second when Mitchell Stephens benefited from a sustained shift in the offensive zone, but the Capitals dug out of that hole before the end of the frame.
Both Washington goals were workmanlike efforts of following the puck and poking it over the line when the opportunity arose. Panik scored first after a shot by Gudas squirted through Vasilevskiy’s legs.
Kuznetsov did the same just two minutes later, this time on a power play. Vasilevskiy again lost track of the puck between his legs, he couldn’t cover it in time and Kuznetsov pushed it in.
Neither team converted in the third, leading to the extra hockey, which followed the regular season style of 3-on-3 hockey rather than the continuous 5-on-5 overtime usually found in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Alex Ovechkin nearly scored the game-winner in the first minute, but missed wide. Jakub Vrana also had a breakaway attempt in overtime, but Vasilevskiy blocked his shot.
The Capitals will take Tuesday off and then practice once before their next game Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers and Lightning are tied atop the standings of the Eastern Conference round robin with two points apiece; Washington has one point for the overtime loss and the Boston Bruins, who owned the NHL’s best record in the regular season, are at zero after losing to the Flyers Monday.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper offered significant praise for the Capitals after his team’s victory.
“That’s a recent Stanley Cup champion,” Cooper said. “I’m shocked that people aren’t talking about that team more because they’re outstanding. They’ve got everything: size, strength, speed, skill. And to be able to stand up to them for as much as we did, I’m proud of our guys.”
With a game under their belts, the Capitals might be more acclimated to the physicality of playoff hockey, which defenseman Brenden Dillon said is what they excel in when they’re at their best.
“Come playoff time, we know we’re built for this style of game,” said Dillon, who only joined the team via trade in February. “We know when we’re at our best and playing Caps hockey, we’re finishing our checks, we’re hard on the forecheck and playing hard in the D zone.
“I think altogether tonight, we were pretty happy with our performance, but at the end of the day we’ve got to find a way to get an extra win and keep pushing forward for the next game.”
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