November 13 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 The Fan
Tampa Bay Lightning (7-6-1)
Washington Capitals (7-7-2)
Two nights after authoring a convincing 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the finale of a four-game homestand, the Caps take to the road for a three-game trip, starting in Tampa with the back half of a home-and-home set against the Lightning. After Sunday’s game, the Caps continue to South Florida for a Tuesday date with the Panthers before heading west to finish the trip in St. Louis on Thursday night.
Buoyed by the return of defenseman John Carlson after a six-game absence – his longest in more than five years – from the lineup, the Caps erupted for five goals at even strength in Friday’s victory over the Bolts. Carlson skated a team-high 26:12 while setting up Sonny Milano for what proved to be the game-winning goal, seconds after Washington completed a five-minute penalty kill that could have altered the complexion of the contest.
Milano scored his first two goals as a Capital and added an assist for a three-point night, matching his single-game best in the NHL. He had three assists as a member of the Anaheim Ducks last Dec. 1. Milano was serving a five-minute major incurred by teammate Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who received a match penalty following an illegal check to the head on Tampa Bay blueliner Cal Foote, who rose slowly before leaving the ice under his own power, but he did not return.
Aube-Kubel – who has twice previously been fined by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety – will have a hearing with DPS on Saturday at 6 p.m., placing his availability for Sunday night’s game in jeopardy. Washington is currently carrying two extra forwards in Connor McMichael and Joe Snively.
Darcy Kuemper turned in his usual solid performance in net, making 28 saves and keeping the game scoreless until the Caps could get rolling offensively. The run support he received enabled him to raise his record to 5-6-1 on the season. Washington had managed just eight goals at 5-on-5 in its previous eight games combined, resulting in a 2-4-2 record over that stretch.
“I think that’s big,” says Carlson. “There’s a lot of new guys, a lot of guys moving around, a lot of guys have been here a short amount of time and have played with the whole team, pretty much. And Sonny and other guys are moving around, plugging holes, moving up the lineup, whatever it is. Not that it’s the end of the world, but it can be difficult for that.
“And like I said before the game, it felt like [we hit] a lot of posts the last couple of games, and maybe we deserved a little better than we had. And then you get a day like this, and everyone feels a little more confident with the puck now, the net looks a little bit bigger, and you build off that confidence.”
The Caps forged a 1-0 lead in the first, but the game was swinging in the balance when the Lightning had that five-minute all-you-can-eat power play early in the second. When Washington killed it off and doubled its lead seconds later on the first of Milano’s two goals, the Friday night D.C. crowed erupted in appreciation.
“Yeah, it’s nice,” says Kuemper. “The [penalty kill] is starting to build momentum in games for us, which is huge. Guys are getting more comfortable within the system, and whenever you can kill off a five-minute major like that – regardless of the goal, which was like a cherry on top, coming out of the box there – I think it kind of changed the tide of the game, and it’s something that the whole team builds off of.”
Carlson became just the fifth player in Caps history to reach the 600-point plateau, and he didn’t show much evidence of rust following a layoff of almost two weeks, while jumping back into the lineup in a game that featured a lot of irascibility and rancor, especially after the hit on Foote.
“It was a lot of special teams,” says Carlson. “That obviously can be really taxing in some respects and not so in others, depending on where you are and what you’re doing. But yeah, it was kind of a wacky game. I think we kept our composure, and that was huge. I think the work ethic was there the whole game, and like I said before the game, if you stick to it and don’t give them as much as they probably can have against many teams, it’s a good recipe.”
Now the Caps will test that recipe once again in the Tampa barn on Sunday night.
The goal of each of the NHL’s 32 teams is to play in the very last hockey game of the season, and for each of the last three seasons, the Lightning has done exactly that, winning the first two of those three. Tampa Bay won the 2020 Stanley Cup in late September, it won the 2021 Cup in early July and it fell in six games to Kuemper and the Colorado Avalanche in late June of this year. The Lightning has played more high leverage hockey than virtually any other team in the last decade plus, having four Cup Final appearances and reaching the Conference finals three times as well over that span.
Friday’s game was an off night for the Bolts, but they are a proud and formidable bunch, and they tend to rebound quickly from rare subpar performances.
“It just wasn’t a great game for our group, obviously,” says Bolts captain Steven Stamkos. “We’ve been struggling a little bit as of late on the power play, and we get a five-minute major there and we can’t score, and they come out of the box and score. Those are turning points in games, and when things are going good and you capitalize on those opportunities. And when you’re in a rut, you try not to let it snowball, but it has been in the last couple of games and it’s costing us some opportunities at some points.
“We just have to keep going at it. It’s on us in this room, and we have to be better.”