It’s been journeyman Johan Holmqvist, though, that looks determined to lead Tampa Bay back there.
Behind the unheralded Holmqvist, the Lightning (13-10-1) look for their fourth straight win when they meet the slumping Washington Capitals (8-9-6) at the St. Pete Times Forum on Tuesday night.
Holmqvist, who has never faced Washington, appeared in four games with the New York Rangers from 2000-02, going 0-3-0 with a 4.32 goals-against average. He signed as a free agent with the Lightning in June after playing the last two seasons in his native Sweden, and Tampa Bay has gotten a big return on its investment this month.
Holmqvist improved to 8-1-0 with a 2.40 GAA in November after making 22 saves Sunday in a 3-1 win over Ottawa.
“That’s how you win a lot of games in the league, your goaltender,” Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. “He’s just on a little bit of a roll here. We’re trying to grab points here, and he’s done a great job for us.”
Denis, picked up from Columbus in an offseason trade for high-scoring forward Fredrik Modin, has given up 22 goals while losing his last five starts. He’s 5-7-1 with a 3.29 GAA, and hasn’t played since Nov. 20.
Filip Kuba and Mike Richards scored 36 seconds apart in the second period against Ottawa to erase a 1-0 deficit. Kuba added an assist, as did Richards, and the win ended an eight-game regular season losing streak to the Senators that dated to December 2003.
“This is a different year,” Richards said. “We have a different team, new faces.”
Martin St. Louis, who assisted on Richards’ goal, also scored in the third period and has four goals and five assists during a four-game point streak. The Conn Smythe Trophy winner during Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup win in 2004, St. Louis had a goal and an assist in a 6-4 win over the Capitals on Oct. 21.
Washington lost its sixth in a row Saturday, 4-1 to the New York Islanders. Alex Ovechkin scored a power-play goal early in the third period, his third in four games and 15th of the season.
Ovechkin has three goals and an assist during a four-game road point streak.
Success on the power play has been one of the few bright spots of late for the Caps, as they’ve scored with the man advantage in seven straight games. Washington, though, has been outscored 25-9 during its longest skid since an eight-game slide from March 10-23.
“We’re just getting some bad bounces,” said the Caps’ Olaf Kolzig, who made 26 saves against the Islanders. “I’m a firm believer that the bounces even out, though. We’ll get our share.”
After Tuesday’s contest, however, Washington’s next four opponents are over .500, including matchups with Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo and Pacific Division powers Dallas and Anaheim.
Caps left wing Alexander Semin opened the season with eight goals in his first seven games, but hasn’t scored since Oct. 21. He hasn’t played since Nov. 17 and remains day-to-day with a shoulder injury.
Washington forward Donald Brashear will serve the final game of his three-game suspension for his actions in a late brawl during a 4-2 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday.