As expected, tonight's meeting between Southeastern Conference rivals Washington and Tampa Bay was a chippy affair from first puck drop (thanks to Bruce Boudreau calling out Stamkos and Downie for diving, perhaps?). Michal Neuvirth took a hit to the head and lost his lid right after the first faceoff and play was stopped momentarily until he could get his old mask on. At 12:30 of the first period, Matt Hendricks went to the box for a slash. Meanwhile, pint-sized sniper and perennial Lady Byng winner Martin St. Louis netted the power play goal to get the Bolts on the board first (the tally was later credited to Sean Bergenheim).
Throughout the first period Ovi was on Mattias Ohlund like white on rice - hitting him at every opportunity. It was Ohlund who gave the Caps their first man advantage late in the period, the result of a lazy hook against Alex Semin (who once again was showing much more spring in his step- I'm loving it!). As the final seconds of the boys' power play ticked off the clock, Ovi cleared the puck from the defensive zone and it surprisingly flew above the glass, drawing the Great8 a delay of game call. At the end of the opening stanza, the captain was in the sin bin and shots on goal were even at seven apiece.
End of first period: Lightning 1 - Capitals 0
After killing the penalty during the opening minutes of the second period, the Caps were called for too many men. Braden Holtby, who came in to relieve Neuvirth (Neuvy apparently was feeling the effects of being hit in the head in first period - hope for a speedy recovery), made a sizzler of a stick save against the Lightning's Simone Gagne. On the other side of the ice, Dwayne Roloson continued to be a thorn in the Caps' side for most of the evening.
And bad news for Caps' fans, Nick Backstrom left the game in the second period and did not return. As adept as he is at line-juggling, Gabby adjusted by placing Jason Arnott in between the two Alexes. Despite an excellent scoring chance on the part of Jason Arnott, the Caps didn't light the lamp in the second period.
End of second period: Lightning 1 - Capitals 0
The third period saw an early goal from Vincent Lecavalier waved off as a tripped up Bolt knocked down Holtby, impeding his ability to make any kind of save (turned out to be a bit of a controversial call on the part of the stripes). Meanwhile, Alex Semin was playing out of his mind and almost got into a skirmish with Dominic Moore in front of the Caps' crease. Whatever Sasha is doing these days, keep it up!
Of course it was #28 who tied up the game at 14:28 with help from Ovi and Dennis Wideman. The tie wasn't broken in the final period and we were off to OT.
End of third period: Lightning 1 - Capitals 1
Braden Holtby exhibited the coolness of a seasoned vet and the boys crashed the net on the other end during OT but this hard-fought battle required a shoot out to settle the score. For reasons unknown, Bolts bench boss Guy Boucher didn't go with stars Steven Stamkos or Marty St. Louis in the shoot out while Gabby stacked his line with both Alexes. It was Alex Ovechkin who saved the day, blowing a rocket past Roloson so fast it not only rattled the net minder, but his water bottle as well.
Braden Holtby was spectacular in the OT and stumped Dominic Moore, Adam Hall and Vinny Lecavalier in the shoot out, earning a big win for the Caps as we head down the stretch. The boys clinched the first place spot in the division and sit just below Boston at third the East with 84 points. Nice win and another toast to a rejuvenated Alex Semin - next up, the Edmonton Oilers pay a rare visit to the Phone Booth on Wednesday.