Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Washington Capitals 3 (OT)

Vincent Lecavalier really doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being an antagonistic, clutching dirtball of a hockey player. So to see him staring at the rafters in dismay after Tomas Vokoun’s overtime in-your-facery, in which the goaltender’s glove somehow managed to gobble up Lecavalier’s knuckler of a potential, game-winner, was a minimally satisfying, penultimate act in an otherwise sloppily-played, post-All Star break loss in Tampa. Lecavalier did figure prominently in the scoring, however, even though you won’t see his name on the scoresheet tonight. In the second period of a 1-1 game, with the puck coming through the neutral zone toward the Washington end, Lecavalier entered the zone with Roman Hamrlik in front of him before ever-so-insidiously sticking out his left foot, causing THE HAMR to tumble clumsily, paving the way for a Marty St. Louis breakaway, which gave the Lightning their first lead at 1:05. The play wasn’t whistled, neither for offsides (which Lecavalier almost certainly was) or interference, for which a case could certainly have been made. Bollocks.The Caps played what you would have to consider a solid road game, given that the already Rechlicz’d roster is still short a suspended Russian, not to mention a concussed Swede, both of whom, it needs not be said, are missed dearly. (Mike Green might as well be a unicorn at this point.) The line that carried the water tonight saw Brooks Laich skating between Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer. The trio got the Capitals on the board first, as Laich’s pass navigated a prone Matt Gilroy and found Hendricks in the slot, who promptly whiffed on the open shot attempt.

But the Ol’ Wagonmaker himself managed to regain possession of the puck before spinning around a firing a backhander top shelf passed an unsuspecting Mathieu Garon at 16:55 of the first period. It would not last long, as Steve Downie took advantage of a negligent Hamrlik, using the acres of space the backpedaling defenseman afforded him to find Teddy Purcell far post for a tap in moments later. You could watch the replay and find fault with all three of Hamrlik, John Carlson — who slid to pick up a driving Lightning forward going to the net instead of Purcell on the post —  and a tardy back-checking Mathieu Perreault. Nate Thompson made it 3-1 at 10:59 of the second period before the Caps answered with a fluky unassisted goal by Perreault that found its way past Garon from behind the net, ricocheting off a Tampa defender’s stick. It was needed, and from there, the Caps were able to carry play for long stretches. Troy Brouwer tied the game at 3 at 5:53 of the third period after a piece of tenacious (and perhaps punishable) forechecking by Laich forced a Gilroy turnover in the high slot. Brouwer made no mistake, scoring his 15th of the season.

Tampa carried the play in overtime and should have ended things when Vokoun (27 saves) robbed Lecavalier at the goal line; on the ensuing shift, Steven Stamkos and his mullet collected a St. Louis rebound and kept the Capitals from escaping with two points.

It’s difficult to feel anything but zen about earning a point in a game when you’re without the three best skaters on the roster; on the road in the first game after a week-long layoff, it’ll do. And hey, for the first time in 2012 games, the Caps had more scoring chances than their opponent, per Neil Greenberg. The last time that happened: Dec. 31 in Columbus. For a team that’s been as underwhelming on the road as these Capitals, it’s something. So it’s on to Florida tomorrow night. There’s no such thing as a must-win game in February, so I won’t even go there. But with such a road-heavy schedule coming up in the next three dozen games, every single point matters, and to take two off the team we’re most likely going to have to bludgeon to death in order to win the Southeast Division in order to even make the playoffs, taking two (out of two, please) would be most excellent.

Blood-boiling number of the night: 1, the number of game jerseys assigned to the newly-signed and recalled Joel Rechlicz, who skated two shifts, both in the first period, for a grand total of 1:49. UNLEASH THE BEAGLE.

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