Dainius Zubrus scored with 2:20 left in regulation and the Washington Capitals edged the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 Sunday for their third home win in four games against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Ovechkin started the decisive push by skating down the left boards and drawing two defenders to him. Ovechkin slipped a rink-wide pass through traffic to Chris Clark on the right wing, and Clark tapped the puck to Zubrus, who scored after splitting two defenders in the slot.
The pass was a daring but beautiful assist, showing that the rookie sensation is keenly aware of where his teammates are and what the defense is trying to do to slow him down.
Doubling down on Ovechkin created extra ice that made possible an otherwise risky long pass.
“If two guys are going to go to (Ovechkin), right away as soon as he’s into the zone, it means there’s always going to be someone open. … After 40 games, people are starting to realize that this is the guy they have to go to,” Clark said.
Ovechkin said the game-winner helped to balance out a frustrating offensive afternoon for the Capitals, who had only four first-period shots, gave the Lightning seven power plays and were outshot 35-24.
“We played not good for two periods,” Ovechkin said. “The third period, I think we played pretty well.”
Jeff Halpern also scored for the Capitals, who snapped a three-game losing streak.
Vincent Lacavalier had the lone goal for the Lightning, who had gone 5-0-1 in their previous six games.
“We had a chance to win,” Lightning coach John Tortorella said. “We doubled them in scoring chances and we don’t score. We lose a couple of battles in the neutral zone at the end there. They were bad coverages and it was in the net, game over.”
The latest loss to the Capitals was Tampa Bay’s final visit to Washington this season. The previous three games went to a shootout, with the Capitals winning two.
“We didn’t play last year, but they’re still the Stanley Cup champions,” Washington defenseman Brendan Witt said. “It’s a good test every time we play them.”
Tampa Bay’s Evegny Artyukhin almost forced overtime. With 0.5 seconds left, his shot glanced off the right post and through the crease behind goalie Olie Kolzig.
Eleven seconds after Tampa Bay’s fifth power play expired, Lacavalier gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Lacavalier swept Vaclav Prospal’s centering pass past Kolzig at 9:24 of the second for his 21st goal.
Halpern tied it with 4:40 left in the period, snapping the Lightning’s shutout streak of 158 minutes, 42 seconds spread over three games. Halpern pursued his own rebound after Tampa Bay’s John Grahame failed to glove the puck, poking it in after it squirted behind the goalie.
Washington won for the first time when scoring fewer than three goals. … Forbes was recalled from AHL Hershey before the game. … Tampa Bay D Darryl Sydor (facial lacerations) and C Martin Cibak (upper body injury) were scratched. Lightning RW Rob DiMaio played despite a broken nose sustained Saturday. … Capitals D Jamie Heward returned after missing five games with a groin injury.