A solid effort by goaltender Dustin Tokarski might not have been accurately reflected on the final score sheet, but it did help the Tampa Bay Lightning earn a crucial point in the standings.
Tokarski, recalled from the Lightning’s top affiliate in Norfolk of the American Hockey League on Wednesday, came up with several key stops en route to making 29 saves in his first career NHL start, but one that resulted in a 3-2 overtime loss to the division-rival Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.
The 22-year-old net minder was currently riding an eight-game win streak for the Admirals at the time of his recall, which came in response to the vacancy in net left after starting goaltender Mathieu Garon went down with a torn groin muscle in the team’s last game on Tuesday against Ottawa.
“I thought he looked good,” Lightning assistant coach Martin Raymond said. “He was aggressive in the paint and handled the puck well.”
Tokarski’s best save of the night perhaps came late in the game when he stopped a point-blank shot by Alex Semin. He also made a spectacular pad save on Alex Ovechkin in the third period, but yielded the game-winning goal to the Capitals forward at 4:09 of the extra frame.
Keith Aucoin and Marcus Johansson also scored for Washington, which snapped a three-game losing streak.
The Capitals entered Thursday’s contest just two points ahead of Tampa Bay, which now sits five points behind the Southeast Division-leading Panthers and three behind Washington for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Had Tampa Bay won in regulation, it would have matched the Capitals’ point total, while it also would have cut the four-point gap between itself and the Winnipeg Jets in half.
Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell each scored for the Lightning, which have now dropped two straight.
The Lightning seemed to outplay the Capitals throughout the majority of the game, holding an advantage in shots through each of the first two periods.
But in the third, the Capitals outshot Tampa Bay 12-3, as the Lightning implemented a defend-first strategy, which led to few scoring chances and little action in their own attacking zone.
With Tampa Bay clinging to a 2-1 lead with four minutes to play in regulation, Johansson drew the Capitals even after he wristed a shot through Tokarski’s legs.
The goal was just the Washington forward’s second in 15 games.
The Lightning had several chances to get the puck out of the zone just moments prior to the goal, but Eric Brewer fanned on a clearing attempt, while both Victor Hedman and Nate Thompson couldn’t find the handle on the puck during the ensuing sequence, allowing the Capitals to keep the puck in.
Washington also held a 4-0 lead in shots throughout the overtime period as well.
The Capitals led 1-0 at 17:08 in the first after Aucoin opened the scoring with just his second goal of the year, which came off a tip-in on a shot from Karl Alzner that took a sharp carom off Aucoin’s stick before finding the back of the net.
Malone tied it 1-1 at 7:25 of the second while on the power play when a cross-crease pass from Steven Stamkos banked off his skate and snuck past Tomas Vokoun. The play went under review, but clearly showed there was no kicking motion used on the play, allowing the goal to stand.
Purcell then gave the Lightning their first lead of the contest after he fired a shot that deflected off John Carlson’s skate in the crease and found its way into the net just before the end of the second.
The Lightning forward now has points in 11 straight games, recording seven goals and 21 points in that span.
“It’s a good feeling,” Purcell said. “It’s important in these big games that we’re finding some chemistry. We knew we were in a tight battle with them and close in the standings, so we wanted to make it hard for them.”
Instead, Tampa Bay ended up making it hard on itself, as defensive breakdowns and mental mistakes in its own zone eventually led to the tying goal with 3:58 to play in regulation, setting the stage for Ovechkin’s game-winner.