Third-period penalty kills help Capitals beat Lightning
WASHINGTON (AP) — It looked like curtains for the Washington Capitals when Lars Eller went to the penalty box with the score tied and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s NHL-best power play given more than a minute of 5-on-3 time.
Instead, goaltender Braden Holtby and Washington’s penalty killers were at their best. The Capitals killed off that Lightning power play and several others to come away with a 3-1 victory Saturday night.
“We stuck with our game plan,” Holtby said. “They’re going to get looks. They’re too skilled not to. It’s just a matter of when they get them, don’t get running around after, and we did a great job of that.”
Holtby turned aside two quality shots by Tyler Johnson and another by Victor Hedman, the three biggest saves of 26 during the game. Tom Wilson also blocked a shot during the 1:26 of 5-on-3 penalty killing time in a crucial part of the game, and Dmitry Orlov scored the go-ahead goal soon after.
“It was a big moment there,” penalty-killer Nic Dowd said. “We had a chance from going down a goal to potentially being on the kill again to getting out of it, and we gave ourselves the opportunity to score and win the game.”
The Lightning’s power play went 0 for 7 as they lost for the second game in a row and third time in their last four.
“We’re a proud group and we’re not happy about our performance on the power play tonight,” Hedman said. “We take it upon us to go out there and get us goals and get us momentum, and we didn’t do that today and that’s on us.”
Led by their penalty kill, the NHL-leading Capitals improved to 5-0-1 in the second half of back-to-backs this season. They were the better team for a large portion of the game against a rested opponent even after playing at New Jersey on Friday.
“The maturity of the team speaks for itself,” said defenseman Radko Gudas, who scored his first goal of the season. “We’re playing smart hockey in these back-to-backs. We’re playing simple and we don’t make it overly hard on ourselves with unnecessary turnovers.”
Curtis McIlhenney got a surprise nod over regular Lightning starter Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was not on the bench for the entire game. He made 32 saves, but the Lightning lost their second in a row.
“I can’t sit here and say we played very well,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.
The NHL-leading Capitals swept the three-game season series against the Lightning, who are outside a playoff position after being a popular preseason pick as Stanley Cup champions.
“Obviously we don’t view them as what their record is,” Holtby said. “They’re a good hockey team. I think our group really gets excited to play good hockey teams. All the games were good. We just did that little extra to come out on top.”
The Capitals got a scare in the second when winger T.J. Oshie crashed head-first into Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and looked to be in distress lying on the ice. Oshie, who has had five documented concussions in 12 NHL seasons, skated off and went straight down the tunnel but returned later in the period.
NOTES: Orlov has five points in his past seven games. ... The Lightning dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen. D-man Luke Schenn returned from a five-game absence, replacing forward Carter Verhaeghe. ... McElhinney was making just his ninth start of the season in Tampa Bay’s 34th game. ... Washington’s Alex Ovechkin was voted an All-Star captain for the third consecutive season.
Lightning: Host the Sunshine State rival Florida Panthers on Monday in their final game before the Christmas break.
Capitals: Visit the Boston Bruins on Monday in their final game before three days away.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno