There used to not be rivalries in the Southeast Division. It used to be one of the most passive divisions in the league when it comes to bad blood. It can probably be attributed to the fact that these teams didn’t face each other in the post-season, which is where most hatred broods. As the division began to turn around and strengthen from top to bottom, the intensity of the rivalries changed, starting with Washington and Tampa Bay.
While it had been growing, it really got heated last season in a January game that saw the Lightning win 7-4. It was the last time the Caps would lose for a month. In that game, newly named Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin almost came to blows with Steve Downie several times, most notably when the two removed their gloves and helmets before Capital Matt Bradley jumped in for him captain.
That game saw a few fights, and every game after that has been graced with scrums and fisticuffs. Last night was just the latest chapter, with two “official” fights breaking out (Downie vs. Hendricks and Hall vs. Bradley) not including a scuffle between Dwayne Roloson and Matt Hendricks that saw both go off for coincidental roughing minors.
The aggression seemed to help the Caps, as they were able to penetrate Roloson for the first time in a Lightning sweater on the ensuing 4-on-4 to tie the game up at 1. They would go on to lead the rest of the game with a final score of 5-2.
The main difference between the teams last night was grit. The speed was evenly matched, but the Capitals got to high-traffic areas to beat the Bolts. Of the 4 non-empty net goals the Capitals scored, 3 were a direct result of crashing the net. The fourth was a snipe from Ovechkin in which Roloson was screened.
Bottom line: the Capitals won more individual battles. The Lightning looked way too lackadaisical and complacent for a team that was trailing most of the game. In a four-point standing swing, the Capitals could have been 7 points behind the Lightning. Instead, they are just 3. And just like that, this division race is a whole new ball game. Part 6 comes March 7th at St. Pete Times Forum.
SCORING: Teddy Purcell had both Lightning goals, while Backstrom (2), Ovechkin, Laich, and Chimera all scored for the Capitals.
1st: Nick Backstrom (WSH)
2nd: Alex Ovehckin (WSH)
3rd: Simon Gagne (TBL)
Highlights, courtesy of NHL.com