Capitals upend defending champion Lightning to snap two-game skid

On a night the Washington Capitals were starving for something positive, John Carlson delivered a double helping against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions at Capital One Arena.

The Capitals’ top defenseman scored a pair of goals Wednesday in a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, each providing a two-goal lead. The second, a blistering wrist shot on the power play that came from between the circles, provided a measure of relief for an anxious home crowd. The Capitals have wobbled in the season’s closing weeks and were coming off a pair of lopsided losses to postseason contenders.

“We knew the type of effort it takes, and I think now you channel that and move to the next one,” Carlson said.

That second goal, which flew past a screened Andrei Vasilevskiy at 16:35 of the second period, gave Washington a 4-2 lead. In a penalty-filled third period, Tampa Bay made things interesting late, with Ross Colton scoring a power-play goal with 2:50 left. But the Lightning was unable to find an equalizer.

“John Carlson had a massive game,” Coach Peter Laviolette said. “He was noticeable not only in the offensive zone, because that’s where it’s easy to notice him, but he was really good in the defensive zone.”

Washington’s other third-period scare came when Tom Wilson had a center-ice collision with Colton. It appeared Colton’s shoulder hit Wilson’s head, and the play was flagged by the NHL’s concussion spotter, sending Wilson down the tunnel to the Capitals’ dressing room. He returned with eight minutes left.

The Capitals have an open goaltending competition (again)

The teams combined for five goals in an end-to-end first period. Martin Fehervary gave the Capitals an early lead before Carlson doubled it less than eight minutes in.

Ilya Samsonov, who made his first start since Washington’s 4-3 shootout win at Buffalo on March 25, delivered a mixed bag in net at a time when Laviolette has said he would like either Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek to stake a claim to the job. His 25save night was highlighted by several athletic stops, but he also missed the mark on routine shots.

It was Carlson, with some help from Alex Ovechkin, who helped Washington’s offense come to life. Carlson nearly had a hat trick, but a goal late in the first period was waved off after he was ruled offside entering the zone. Team defensive woes were still visible but were offset by similar struggles for the visitors.

“That was a huge two points for us,” said center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who notched a pair of assists. “We played ‘D’ pretty good sometimes, sometimes not, but at the end of the day we play for each other a lot today, so that was a fun game to watch and play.”

Fehervary’s goal came on the rush, off a nice pass from Carlson. Carlson gave Washington a 2-0 advantage with his rocket from the point on the power play.

The Lightning briefly silenced the crowd with Nikita Kucherov’s goal at 8:41 from the slot. Samsonov had lost his stick, leaving him vulnerable after the Capitals couldn’t get the puck out of the zone.

Tampa Bay, looking dangerous, nearly tied the score at 2, but a rebound goal was disallowed after the Lightning was called for a hand pass. Moments earlier, Samsonov made a stellar diving paddle save on a two-on-one.

Ovechkin scored Washington’s third goal after he found a loose puck in front and fired it past Vasilevskiy at 15:10. It was Ovechkin’s 43rd goal. Tampa Bay’s Nick Paul scored just 81 seconds later, ripping a shot past Samsonov’s glove to cut the Capitals’ lead to 3-2 after the opening period.

Carlson was the only one to light the lamp in the middle 20 minutes.

Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ win over the Lightning:

Hathaway out, McMichael in

Winger Garnet Hathaway was a late scratch because of a non-coronavirus illness. Hathaway scored his 11th goal Sunday in a loss to Minnesota, tying his career high.

Connor McMichael took Hathaway’s spot in the lineup. The rookie was heating up in recent weeks but had been a healthy scratch against Minnesota, casting doubt he would have a regular place in the Capitals’ lineup. McMichael slotted in as Washington’s third-line center against the Lightning.

Lars Eller was bumped to the fourth line, where he played left wing. Eller, a natural center, said in the past that he’s more comfortable there but noted the importance of adaptability and versatility. He played some wing during his time with Montreal but had not played at that spot with Washington.

Coming into the game, forward T.J. Oshie said the Capitals had two of their best practices of the season. Oshie said he thought the team was focused and executed well, using rare consecutive practice days to work on the details of its game.

After Washington’s back-to-back set against Pittsburgh and Boston this weekend, Washington will play every other day until it ends the season with a back-to-back against the New York Islanders and Rangers on the road.

“Maybe getting into a rhythm for everybody, not just goaltenders but the players as well, [it’s good to get] in that grind of keeping your head in the game,” Laviolette said earlier in the week. “The schedule . . . it’s nonstop, it’s relentless. And there’s been a lot of space right now.”

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