Steven Stamkos got the suspense out of the way early as he scored a milestone goal just 36 seconds into the game when he fired the puck from the left face-off circle and beat Washington Capital goaltender Jose Theodore to claim the franchise record for rookie goals in a season with 22.
“He’s obviously a goal scorer,” Lightning interim head coach Rick Tocchet said of Stamkos. “He’s got a great shot and great hands – can you imagine if he continues playing the way he’s played in the last two months?”
But the goal by Stamkos, and a furious first period in which the Lightning fired 12 shots on the Capital net, 11 of which were recorded before Washington notched a single shot on Karri Ramo in the Tampa Bay net, counted for nothing as the Capitals defeated the Lightning, 4-2.
The Lightning had the early lead courtesy of Stamkos, assisted by Zenon Konopka and Martin St. Louis, but once again, the power play, or lack thereof, turned the momentum against the Bolts. Tampa Bay was unable to convert on five extra-man opportunities, while the Capitals climbed back to tie the game at 9:19 of the first period when Washington forward Brooks Laich scored on a 5-on-3 power play.
As an indication of how dominant the Lightning played to start the game, consider this: when the buzzer sounded to end the first period, Tampa Bay had held the potent Capital offense to only six shots on net, five of which came on power play chances.
But period two was a different story.
Washington grabbed a two-goal lead by virtue of scoring twice in 31 seconds, beginning with the second goal of the night by Laich, scored just two seconds after Evengy Artyukhin’s penalty for tripping expired, followed by a goal by David Steckel, as he jammed the puck past Ramo from in front of the goal crease.
The Lightning got one goal back to pull within one at 12:53 of the final period when Paul Szczechura’s shot from above the right faceoff circle deflected off Matt Pettinger’s skate and into the net. The goal, also assisted by Lightning defenseman Vladimir Mihalik, was Pettinger’s seventh of the season.
But that score closed the book on Lightning goals in the St. Pete Times Forum for this season as Tampa Bay was able to generate only five shots on net in the third.
With only five seconds remaining on the clock, Capital defenseman Mike Green put the exclamation point on the Washington win when he flipped the puck into the empty Lightning net, with Ramo was on the bench in favor of an extra skater.
Ramo finished the game with 29 saves on 31 shots, many of which were acrobatic in nature. This was the seventh time in his previous eight games that Ramo was called on to face in excess of 30 shots on net.
Tampa Bay will close out the season Saturday night when they travel to Atlanta to play the Thrashers at Philips Arena. And though the Bolts will be playing only for pride, pride is something they have in abundance, as they continue to play hard to the end, despite a plethora of injuries that has turned the season upside down for the Lightning..
“The guys have kept their focus and battled,” Tocchet said, “even though a lot of people would like to turn the page on the season.”
But there is still one more page to be turned.
Martin St. Louis
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
3 - 1 WSH
3 - 2 WSH
4 - 2 WSH
Martin St. Louis
Martin St. Louis