WASHINGTON (AP) — Wouldn’t figure the Washington Capitals would be the kind of team to get complacent right now, not after they’ve worked so hard to climb from the depths of the standings to get into playoff position.
Yet the Capitals blew every bit of a four-goal lead Saturday night, nearly ruining a chance to pick up a couple of points on their closest pursuer in the homestretch of the regular season.
It took defenseman Mike Green’s power-play goal at 2:59 of overtime to rescue the team.
The winning streak stays alive, at seven games following a 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s good lessons right now for us,” said Alex Ovechkin, who moved ahead in the NHL’s goal-scoring race with his 27th of the season. “I hope for next time when we get lead like that we’re not going to stop playing.”
The win essentially served as the Capitals’ game in hand against the second-place Winnipeg Jets, who are off until Tuesday.
Washington leads Winnipeg 48-44 in points in the standings, and both teams have six games to play to decide the winner of the league’s weakest division.
But it came with way too much cruising once the Capitals had a 5-1 lead early in the second period.
“Terrible third period. Myself and just that,” said Green, who was on the ice for three of the Lightning’s goals. “We’ve been talking about how we’ve been finding ways to win and how we’re playing with leads, and we sat back on our heels and we let them come at us.”
Ovechkin broke a tie with the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos to take the solo spot atop the goal leaderboard for the first time this season. Troy Brouwer, Jack Hillen, Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr also scored, and Braden Holtby made 35 saves for the Capitals.
Green’s overtime goal came after Vincent Lecavalier was whistled for slashing Marcus Johansson in front of the crease, finally shifting the momentum back to the Capitals.
“When a team does get behind that much, they play so reckless,” Washington coach Adam Oates said. “And you’re not trained to handle a reckless team. … If the game’s a more normal game in the start, they wouldn’t have played so crazy. But I’m not trying to use that as an excuse, it’s just hard sometimes. We leaked a little oil and fortunately we got it back.”
Richard Panik and Martin St. Louis each scored twice for the Lightning, and Teddy Purcell then completed the comeback with 2:35 remaining in regulation.
“With the situation we’re in, and the playoffs far away, we could have packed it in,” Purcell said. “But it just goes to show that we’ve got a lot character and fight in here and even though there’s only seven or eight games left, we’re trying to build and get better for next year.”
The Lightning have lost four of five and must have felt they were lost in a comedy of errors from the moment starting goaltender Ben Bishop complained that the sun was in his eyes seconds before the opening faceoff.
The start was delayed about a minute while the problem was fixed by closing the drapes in the restaurant on the arena’s club level.
Bishop lasted only a period, anyway. He was pulled during the first intermission for Mathieu Garon, who promptly allowed two goals in the first four shots he faced to make the score 5-1.
Tampa Bay’s B.J. Crombeen also had a rough game. He dropped his gloves and wanted to fight Washington’s Matt Hendricks late in the first period, but Hendricks wanted no part of it and skated away, leaving Crombeen by himself while the Capitals completed a rush that ended with Hillen scoring a goal.
Crombeen tried to stir up trouble again as the horn sounded to end the period and was given a 10-minute misconduct.
Tampa Bay also had a penalty for too many men on the ice in the first period, leading to the goal from Brouwer that started the Capitals’ scoring spree.
Ovechkin’s goal came in the final minute of the first period when he outskated the Lightning to a loose puck and backhanded his shot past an overcommitted Bishop.
Ovechkin, who scored only twice in his first 10 games this season, has 17 goals in his past 15.
NOTES: Tampa Bay C Nate Thompson needed eight stitches above the right eye after taking a puck to the face in the first period. … Washington C Mike Ribeiro had an assist for his 600th career point. … Capitals F Martin Erat returned after missing three games with a lower body injury, but F Brooks Laich (groin) and F Joel Ward (lower body) remain sidelined. … Lightning D Victor Hedman returned after missing four games with a lower body injury.