WASHINGTON – It was a crazy night inside Verizon Center.
Troy Brouwer netted his first career hat trick, Karl Alzner took part in his first career fight, and Tomas Vokoun made 28 saves to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday.
“I’m pretty excited,” Brouwer said of his hat trick. “I was close once before. It’s a special feat, but at the same time I’m excited about the win tonight.”
The win did not come without nerves, however, as after taking a 3-0 lead early in the second period, Washington allowed the Lightning to take control of the game, and barely made it out of the building with the two points following two goals against in the final 3:24 of regulation. It got way too close, and everybody knows it.
“We played well enough to win tonight,” Tampa coach Guy Boucher said after the game. “I’m sorry.”
Tampa Bay was assessed three penalties in the first five minutes of the game, and the Capitals took full advantage, scoring twice to take a commanding lead after 5:25. Alex Ovechkin ripped one from the point after barely keeping the puck in the offensive zone, while Brouwer followed it up with his first less than two minutes later with a short-side strike through Roloson’s five-hole.
For the Caps, getting that early lead has been so imperative to their recent string of success on home ice, as Washington has now won six in a row at home, scoring first in each of those victories. “(The power play goals) have definitely helped our team this season,” said Matt Hendricks. “We get the first and we seem to get our confidence going.”
After getting a second goal from Brouwer early in the second period, though, the wheels began to fall off. The Lightning had the Capitals pinned in their own zone for long stretches, and finally broke through after Martin St. Louis pick-pocketed Mike Knuble below the Washington goal line and dished in front to Taylor Pyatt, who pushed one past Vokoun with 2:54 left in the period.
It was a product of sloppy play after getting a lead, something that has become a disturbing trend over the Caps’ last few games.
“I think we get the lead there, and we sit back a little bit,” said Hendricks. “We shouldn’t. Just because we have the lead, we shouldn’t want to change our game. When we have the lead, we have to focus on getting pucks deep, and when we look at the film, I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of turnovers just inside their blue line.”
Karl Alzner felt the same way. “They turned it up a little bit,” said the defenseman, who was sporting a large bump on his cheek post-game from his encounter with Downie. “Playing last night, they probably came out a little flatter than they wanted to, but I think we took the foot off the gas pedal a little too much.”
That became apparent as the third period wore on, as Tampa began to dominate the pace of play, and only Vokoun held Washington into the game. “He played well tonight in net for us,” said Hunter. “Up to the end there, he didn’t let many in.” Eventually, though, the pressure was too much.
Fueled by two penalties, Tampa got two goals in the final three and a half minutes, sandwiched around Brouwer’s third goal into an empty net, to make it interesting and draw real questions about the Capitals’ ability to put the game away.
"You always like to close them out, be sound defensively,” said Hunter. “When they score late nobody’s going to be happy about it. It's a win, but everyone wants to be sound."
Despite the game being much closer than many would like, the game was two huge divisional points, and that has to be the positive for a team that needs every point they can get. “I think we’ve got to start winning some games here,” said Dennis Wideman, who had two assists. “We want to finish up well before the all-star break. We’ve got to put some distance between us and the teams behind us.”
Dale Hunter agreed, and knows that the next week, in which the Capitals play four games in seven days, is big for the prospects of the remainder of their season.
“You gotta keep winning. Everybody else is winning, so you have to win. These points are huge, and we need them.”
Do they ever.
NOTES: Cody Eakin, playing in his first game since being recalled from Hershey on Thursday, played 6:51 and did not have a shot on goal…Troy Brouwer, in addition to his hat trick, was involved in a scrum with six minutes left in the third period after hitting Tampa winger Martin St. Louis into the boards. “We have a team that sticks together,” said Guy Boucher. “We had it last year, we have it this year.” Brouwer was assessed a double minor on the play…Tomas Vokoun has now started eight consecutive games and won five in a row on home ice…Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is still day-to-day, according to Dale Hunter, but could be held out of game action until after the all-star break…Alex Ovechkin broke a three game point drought with his power-play goal in the first period. Ovechkin had seven power play goals all of last season, and has seven this year already.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. You can follow him on Twitter here, as he will be at practice Saturday for all your needs.