NHL leading goal-scorer Steven Stamkos scored his 57th and 58th goals of the season within the last minute of regulation to snap a 2-2 tie and added an assist to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 4-2 victory over the Washington Capitals Monday night. It was Tampa's second straight win, while stopping a two-game Washington winning streak.
With the Lightning already eliminated from postseason contention and the Capitals battling the Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot and attempting to get back into a late race for the division crown, Tampa could act as only a spoiler against their Southeast Division rivals.
And, with 42-year-old goaltender Dwayne Roloson making 31 saves -- many of the extremely difficult variety -- they did just that.
After a scoreless first 20 minutes, Alexander Semin opened the scoring past the midway point of regulation. Mathieu Perreault gathered the puck along the right wing half wall and whipped a perfect pass right into Semin's wheelhouse, and the sniper made no mistake, beating Roloson with his one-timer for his 20th goal of the season and a 1-0 Washington lead at 12:47.
The turning point in the game may have come in the latter stages of the second period, when Roloson came up with a pair of tremendous saves. With just over four minutes remaining in the middle frame, Alex Ovechkin drove the net and Roloson had to get his left arm up to block a point-blank chip shot to keep the Lightning ahead by a goal. Later in the sequence, Ovechkin sent a cross-ice pass to defenseman Mike Green, who sent a one-timer towardthe open side of the cage. Roloson's glove grabbed the puck as the goaltender got a great push across the goal crease to rob Green, who slammed his stick against the glass in disgust when he realized his shot somehow hadn't made it into the net.
Roloson's sensational stop kept Tampa Bay within a goal, and seemed to spur them on. Moments later with Dmitry Orlov in the penalty box, Teddy Purcell set up in Stamkos' usual trigger position at the left hash marks and took a Stamkos feed, rifling a a shot through the five-hole of Caps netminder Michal Neuvirth for his 21st goal of the year and tying the game up with 2:40 remaining in the stanza.
With the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum still celebrating Purcell's tally, the Lightning would strike again soon after.
Following some tireless forechecking work in the left wing corner by Nate Thompson, Victor Hedman's shot from the left point found its way past a Tom Pyatt screen in front and Neuvirth into the net just 25 seconds later. The defender's fifth goal of the campaign gave the Bolts a 2-1 lead at the second intermission.
With time winding down and Washington looking desperate for some offense, Green would be instrumental in the game-tying goal. The defenseman, who has been oft-injured during a nightmarish season, gathered a loose puck at center ice and started a counter attack rush into the Lightning zone. He lost control of the puck and Tampa defender Brett Clark weakly knocked it away from Green, but it went right to Semin in the right wing circle. Roloson made the save off the Russian's shot but the puck rebounded to Jason Chimera to the goalie's right, and he backhanded a shot into the empty half of the cage for his 20th goal to knot the game at 2-2 with 3:17 remaining.
It appeared the contest was heading to overtime, in which the Caps would have picked up at least one valuable point, but Stamkos and the Lightning had other ideas.
Clark sent a shot from the blue line that Neuvirth stopped, but Stamkos beat Dennis Wideman to the rebound and tucked it past the goalie for his 57th of the season with just 1:03 remaining in the game to give the home team a 3-2 lead.
With Neuvirth pulled for an extra attacker, Stamkos would add his second within the last minute and change as he flipped an airborne shot from his knees while sliding along the right wing half wall for number 58 with just one tick left on the clock, giving "Stammer" a 10-goal lead over Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Stamkos now has eight goals in his last six contests.
For the Capitals, it was a huge missed opportunity to not only put a four-point margin between themselves and Buffalo for eighth, but also pull to within one point of the Florida Panthers for the division lead. Washington hosts the Panthers Thursday night in what could have been a street fight for the title as the regular season winds down.
The Cats and Sabres each have three games left on their respective schedules, while Washington has just two remaining.