- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

TAMPA, Fla. — For nearly the whole game against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Washington Capitals played Tampa Bay to a standstill. Then they had a letdown, minor by most standards, and just that quick, it was over.

Tampa Bay beat the Caps 4-2 last night, the final goal an empty netter, after Washington unraveled for just a few minutes midway through the third period. At the time the score was tied, thanks to a pair of highlight-reel scores by Alex Ovechkin, but Vincent Lecavalier scored on a power-play shot from the right point with the Caps still stumbling around and that was it.

Up to that point, the Caps had played a textbook road game, keeping Tampa Bay off balance and taking advantage of Ovechkin’s offensive ability. The Caps were lucky in one respect — they kept taking penalties but it nearly didn’t matter because the Lightning are horrible on the power play.

As it turned out, the Lightning finally took advantage.

Washington’s Brendan Witt took a good penalty when he was called for hooking at 13:41, probably preventing a goal while the Caps were still momentarily disorganized. But while Witt was off the ice, Lecavalier hammered a shot from the right point. The puck glanced off Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, quickly changed direction and goalie Olie Kolzig had no chance.

The Caps came apart for a few minutes midway through the third period. It came to a head when Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk was off for holding; the once dormant Lightning suddenly came to life and caught Washington by surprise.

“Our guys were really forcing them,” said winning goalie Sean Burke. “We went down there, kept the puck in their end, seemed to confuse them and they never regrouped. I think our guys decided they were going to kill that penalty for Dave. It was a 2-2 game and we were not going to let them score on this power play. They never gave Washington a chance to set up.”

It was the only time all night Tampa Bay was in command, the way the team was two years ago when it was on the way to its championship. Last night the Lightning had all they could handle — but for those few minutes.

“He was worth the price of admission,” legendary coach Scotty Bowman, now a consultant with the Detroit Red Wings, said after watching Ovechkin perform his magic in the first period. The rookie left wing scored in the opening three minutes when he easily flicked a puck over Burke’s right shoulder then connected on Washington’s first short-handed tally of the season.

Unfortunately, that was all the offense the Caps could muster against Burke, who played his first NHL game against the Caps in 1988. Washington had 9:27 of power play time but couldn’t come close to denting the armor Tampa Bay throws up around its goalie while killing a penalty.

Notes — Tonight’s scheduled game against Florida in Sunrise was postponed by Hurricane Wilma, so the Caps are off until Thursday when they are at Philadelphia. The Panthers game has not been rescheduled. … Last night’s scratches were defensemen Mathieu Biron (for the fourth time in the last five games) and Bryan Muir. Muir, just back from a groin injury, missed Thursday’s practice for “precautionary” reasons but skated yesterday. … Jeff Friesen’s goal Wednesday night against Buffalo was his first in 17 games, his longest scoreless streak since 1997.

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