Last season, Tampa Bay and Washington played three highly-entertaining games, each one decided by a goal and two ending in a shootout.
Saturday night in the first meeting of the 2014-15 season between the two teams, the series continued to thrill.
In a back-and-forth affair that saw each team take control for portions, Jason Garrison scored the game-winning goal for the second time in as many games to lift the Lightning to a 4-3 victory in front of 19,119 at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay (8-3-1, 17 points) has now won a season-high three games in a row.
“If you can play that well against Washington, have a close game, have that character win like we did, the entire team contributed in some way, I think that speaks volumes about our team,” Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. “But, it’s still early in the season, there’s still a long way to go and a lot more year.”
On Garrison’s game-winner, the burly defenseman wristed a shot through traffic and past Washington goaltender Braden Holtby from just inside the blue line after Steven Stamkos won a faceoff clean and directed the puck back to Garrison.
“It’s not about how hard (the shot) is sometimes, it’s just about finding the right lane to the net and getting lucky and that’s kind of what happened,” said Garrison, who also scored the deciding goal two nights earlier against Philadelphia.
Stamkos picked up his fifth assist and 13th point of the season on the goal, which came 2:27 into the third period.
“Give Stammer credit, he won that draw back strong,” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s traffic. To be honest, the way Holtby reacted, I think it hit [Nicklas] Backstrom’s skate and just changed direction, seeing-eye single. But, you win draws, you get pucks to the net, there’s traffic, things like that can happen, and it happened for us tonight.”
Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop stopped 35-of-38 shots and made several key saves down the stretch with the Lightning clinging to a one-goal lead to earn his seventh victory of the season.
“(Bishop) was our first star tonight for sure. He always is,” Garrison said. “We do our best to try to make it easy for him. He seems to come up with huge saves often. All the credit to him.”
Lightning forward Ryan Callahan didn’t take long to mark his return to the Bolts lineup Saturday after sitting out the previous five games with a lower-body injury. Callahan put the Bolts ahead 1-0 with a crafty piece of stick work, redirecting Brian Boyle’s shot from the point between his legs with his back to goal at the 6:06 mark of the first period.
“Cally was good,” Cooper said. “I probably played him a little too much first game back, but he kept telling me he was feeling good. It’s great to see him score there early and get into the game.”
The Capitals answered 12:59 into the first period, Marcus Johansson scoring a rebound goal with help from Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. On a breakaway, Ovechkin was tripped from behind while firing a shot at the Bolts goal that was initially saved by Bishop, but Johansson, crashing, put the second chance into the net to tie the score 1-1.
Eric Fehr’s first goal of 2014-15 gave the Caps a 2-1 lead 2:11 into the second period, but the Lightning leveled the score seven minutes later on Ondrej Palat’s fourth of the season. The score was set up by Tyler Johnson, who weaved his way through the Washington defense to get the puck in deep, and Nikita Kucherov, who sent a spectacular pass from behind the net to Palat’s stick in front of goal.
“For (Kucherov) to see him there and they both know exactly where each other were going, it’s great when you can have that kind of chemistry,” Cooper said.
The Lightning retook the lead 12:12 into the second period on Kucherov’s fifth score of the season. Kucherov redirected Eric Brewer’s shot from the point past Holtby (24 saves) to put the Bolts ahead 3-2.
Brewer and Johnson assisted, for Johnson, his team-leading 13th assist of the season.
The Johnson-Palat-Kucherov line, which has been on fire of late, registered two of the Lightning’s four goals and have accounted for nine scores since banding together in Winnipeg.
“We’re just trying to build off that (chemistry), try to get better every game and I think we’ve done that so far,” Johnson said.
Washington (4-4-2 10 points) capitalized on a power play near the end of the second to tie the score 3-3 heading into the final period, Troy Brouwer camping out in front of the Lightning net and converting after a nice feed from Johansson.
But Garrison’s game-winner in the third, the only score of the final period, proved to be the winning tally.
The Capitals outshot the Lightning 38-28.
Alex Killorn headed into Tampa Bay’s locker room in the second period and didn’t return to the game after suffering an upper-body injury. Killorn missed four games previously with an upper-body injury before coming back Tuesday against Arizona.
“It’s crazy what’s going on because as soon as we get (Callahan) back, we lose Killorn,” Cooper said. “I think Killorn maybe played six minutes. I don’t know the number, how many games have we played, 12? I bet you seven or eight of them we have not finished with the amount of players we started the game with. We’ve got to find a way to get healthy here.”
The Lightning have four days before wrapping up their four-game home stand at Amalie Arena on Thursday, November 6, against the Calgary Flames, the final time the Bolts will play the Flames in the regular season. Tampa Bay scored a 2-1 overtime victory over the Flames in Calgary on October 21.
“We want to make it hard for teams to come in (to Amalie Arena) and win,” Bishop said. “We’ve got the first three of this home stand. We have one more against Calgary. They’re a good team. A little time off here to enjoy Halloween, and then get back to work.”