WASHINGTON (AP)—On the verge of giving away a big lead in what would have been a fifth consecutive loss, Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella called a timeout and gathered his players for a pep talk.
The gist of his message? “We’re playing well,” center Tim Taylor recounted. “Control yourselves.” With that positive reinforcement, Tortorella pounded his palms together and sent his club back onto the ice to finish off a victory.
“This was an opportunity for us to be able to handle a situation. It’s something that we’ve struggled with,” said Tortorella, whose team improved to 5-8 in one-goal games. “In these type of situations, when you do get the win like we did, maybe it springboards you to something else.”
That’s just the sort of thing that happened for Washington after the teams’ previous meeting, Nov. 28 at Tampa. The Capitals won 5-2 behind Olie Kolzig’s career-high 48 saves to end a six-game winless drought and start a 7-1-1 roll heading into Tuesday. That loss also began a 1-7-1 slide for Tampa Bay.
But the teams’ fortunes switched on this night, with the Lightning outshooting Washington 29-9 through two periods while taking a 5-2 lead that drew loud boos from the announced crowd of 10,417.
“I don’t know if we were overconfident going into the game or thinking that we’re better than we really are. We didn’t show that team enough respect and as a result we were looking at a 5-2 deficit,” Kolzig said. “We came close, but because we dug ourselves that big a hole we couldn’t ultimately come out of it.”
The Lightning had dropped four straight games entering Tuesday, wasting a lead in each of the last three.
“For the first time after a game in a little bit, we get to feel good about ourselves,” Taylor said. “We’ve had a lot of things go bad in the last 10 to 15 minutes of hockey games.”
This time, Washington’s Kris Beech and Bryan Muir scored in the third period to make it a one-goal game with about 7 1/2 minutes left. But after the timeout, Lightning goalie Marc Denis managed to hold on for only his second win in his last 12 starts.
“They were back in the game, feeling good about themselves and threw everything but the kitchen sink at us,” St. Louis said.
It didn’t start that way.
The Capitals have been dominant early in games lately, outscoring opponents 14-4 in the first period of the previous nine games. But Washington came out flat Tuesday, outshot 17-5 and outscored 3-1 in the opening period—the lone bright spot for the hosts was Alex Ovechkin’s fifth goal in three games and 23rd of the season. He wheeled around the net, as though looking for someone to pass to, then stopped near the circle, paused and threaded the puck past Denis.
Lecavalier, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1998, scored his 19th of the season on a first-period power play as Tampa Bay went 3-for-5 in extra-skater chances.
That helped build the three-goal lead that nearly vanished.
“With all the bad bounces we got in the third, we still held on and got the victory,” St. Louis said. “We’ve been on the other side, in terms of result, for a while now.”
St. Louis extended his point streak to six games; he has six goals and seven assists during that span. … Washington’s Donald Brashear was scratched because of an injury; the team listed him as day-to-day. The Capitals wouldn’t say what type of injury he has.