Capitals' Playoff Chances In Jeopardy
By Stephen London
With only three games left to play, the Washington Capitals rolled in to Tampa Bay April 2 to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning for the sixth meeting this season. The Capitals have had trouble with the Lightning since their Florida division rival swept them during the playoffs last year.
The Capitals had not beaten the Lightning during any of their last four meetings at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Capitals played a hard-fought game, but a few brief defensive lapses allowed the Lightning to steal the game away, 4-2, diminishing the Capitals' playoff chances.
The first period was uneventful, with a couple penalties on the Capitals, one on the Lightning and only 12 collective shots. The Capitals have been slow starters on the road during the first period, but the Lightning did not get a jump in the lead because of it.
The Capitals actually got on the scoreboard first with a goal off the faceoff by Alex Semin, his 20th of the season, 12 minutes and 47 seconds into the second period. Less than five minutes later, the Capitals gave up a power-play goal, and let another goal in 25 seconds later.
After the second period, the defense leveled out, with the help of goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Down only a goal during the third period, the Capitals kept pushing the puck to get scoring opportunities.
Jason Chimera was in the right place at the right time for a rebound goal to tie the game up at two with only 3:17 left during the game. For a while, most Capitals fans must have thought that the team was about to go into overtime for the third straight game. But the game was far from over.
With little more than a minute to play, the Lightning got the help they needed from the NHL leader in goals, Steve Stamkos. A slap shot came from the point, which Neuvirth got a pad on, but Stamkos was there unguarded for the rebound goal. After the Capitals pulled their goaltender, Stamkos made a fantastic forechecking play, which made it possible for him to get an empty-net goal and give the Lightning a 4-2 lead.
Despite the loss, Neuvirth played well, with 23 saves on 26 shots faced, including a number of desperation saves, which kept the score from getting out of control. Dwayne Roloson of the Lightning made saved 31 of the 33 shots he faced.
Now, the Capitals are still in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but have one fewer game to play than the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres. If the Sabres lose any of their next three games and the Capitals win their last two, the Capitals will maintain their position in the standings and have a playoff berth.
• The Capitals have now blown a lead during each of their last three games.
• The Capitals have trouble winning in nationally televised games (5-7-2).
• The Lightning have been in the league for 19 years now. Last night's loss marks the first time the Capitals have lost all their games at Tampa Bay.
• Last night's goal by Semin makes this season the sixth straight season he has reached the 20-goal mark.
• The Sabres, who are two points behind the Capitals in the Eastern Conference standings, play the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.
Posted April 3, 2012