No one among the sellout crowd of 19,844 in the St. Pete Times Forum tonight could fault the effort, but despite putting together one of their strongest all-around games of the season and dominating the Washington Capitals by almost every statistical measure, The Tampa Bay Lightning came up short where it counts the most, on the scoreboard, losing to Washington, 3-1.
Tampa Bay had the advantage over the NHL leading Capitals in shots (34-28) and scoring chances (22-12 unofficially) and even outhit Washington but except for Vincent Lecavalier’s 22nd goal of the season, the Bolts could not solve Capital netminder Jose Theodore, who stretched his regulation-game winning streak to 18, the longest streak by an NHL goaltender in 10 seasons.
Lecavalier’s goal at 6:54 of the first period, a blast from the slot assisted by Teddy Purcell and Brandon Bochenski, tied the game at 1-1 after Tomas Fleischmann opened the scoring for the Capitals as he converted a pass from just outside the crease to score Washington’s first shot on goal in the game.
Alexander Ovechkin, returning from a two-game suspension, made his presence felt less than four minutes after Lecavalier knotted the game when he slipped behind the Lightning defense, collected a pass that bounced off the boards and skated in alone, beating Lightning netminder Antero Nittymaki. The goal was Ovechkin’s 45th of the season, tying him with Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead.
Tampa Bay then clamped down and produced an outstanding defensive effort, holding the Capitals without a shot on net for almost 15 minutes, which included two Washington power plays. For the game, the Lightning penalty kill was faultless, shutting down the league-leading Capital power play four times.
But the offense, which has generated only five goals in the last four games, was unable to convert despite five extra-man chances, during which the Lightning powered 12 shots on the Washington net.
“Everybody played well,” Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. “We just couldn’t put the puck in the net. We had power plays and 5-on-5 chances, but we just didn’t bury them. It’s tough but we have to go out and play tomorrow and get a win and go from there.”
Alexander Semin completed the scoring for the Capitals when he knocked in a rebound from just outside the crease to Nittymaki’s left in the final period.
“Tonight’s effort was excellent,” Lightning head coach Rick Toccet said. “The guys worked really hard.”
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