Capitals grind out tough shootout win against Lightning, improve Southeast Division lead

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Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau talked tough going into tonight’s clash for the Southeast Division crown, providing the Tampa Bay Lightning with even more motivation to take back the top spot. While it’s almost natural to assume that the two teams would ride their marquee names and finesse, both teams instead provided a blue collar effort, as the Caps cranked out a black-and-blue shootout win.

Washington 2, Tampa Bay 1 (SO)

The Capitals might leave the game a little banged up, as it’s possible that Michal Neuvirth and Nicklas Backstrom will join Mike Green and Semyon Varlamov among Washington’s walking wounded. Neuvirth gave way to Braden Holtby after one period because he took a shot to the mask while Backstrom might have re-aggravated a fractured thumb injury, as Holtby said that he left the game “shaking his hand” during his interview on Versus.

Both teams should be sore tomorrow morning, but the Capitals can soothe themselves with a two-point lead in the Southeast thanks to great relief work by Holtby (making all 21 saves and going perfect in the shootout) and Alexander Semin’s continued success against the Lightning. Semin scored the game-tying goal, moving him to seven goals and two assists for nine points in only four games against Tampa Bay.

Guy Boucher’s decision to play the Tampa Bay’s best defensive forwards against Alex Ovechkin worked during regulation as the tactic kept the elite scorer off the board, but he still made an impact by scoring the shootout winner. In typical Ovechkin fashion, he showed plenty of emotion after the goal, holding a No. 1 finger up in the air as he passed the Lightning bench.

Boucher will be forced to ask questions about his choices for the shootout, as he left struggling Steven Stamkos and star winger Martin St. Louis on the bench in favor of Adam Hall and Dominic Moore. (His other choice was more conventional, though, as Vincent Lecavalier was the third shooter.)

Dwayne Roloson’s great effort will probably be lost in the shuffle, as he stopped 29 out of 30 shots during the game and was only beaten by Ovechkin in the shootout. It appeared that Martin St. Louis scored the Lightning’s lone goal on the power play, but Sean Bergenheim was eventually credited with a deflection tally.

The Capitals are now on a five-game winning streak while the Lightning are on a four-game skid. Washington built their division lead to two points, although Tampa Bay holds a game in hand and the same amount of wins (37). The two teams won’t meet again unless they play each other in the playoffs, so it’ll be interesting to see how this race closes out.

The incumbent Capitals currently have the advantage, but with a banged up Washington roster, it’s too early to count out the Lightning. Especially since Tampa Bay still left with a charity point.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

He also had a few choice words for No. 87:

Sens, Avs to play pair of regular-season games in Sweden

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NEW YORK (AP) The Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators will play two regular-season games in Sweden next season.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association on Friday announced their new Global Series games Nov. 10 and 11 in Stockholm.

The Avalanche and Senators will play the NHL’s first regular-season games in Europe since 2011. It’s the NHL’s sixth trip to Europe and the seventh and eighth games played in Sweden.

Colorado’s captain is 24-year-old Swedish forward Gabriel Landeskog. Ottawa’s captain is 26-year-old Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson, winner of the 2012 and 2015 Norris Trophy.

Other Swedes currently playing for the two clubs include Ottawa’s Frederik Claesson (Stockholm) and Viktor Stalberg (Gothenburg), and Colorado’s Anton Lindholm (Skelleftea) and Carl Soderberg (Malmo).

Commissioner Gary Bettman says with more Swedish players than ever, it’s a good chance to showcase the game there. Eighty-four Swedes have played in the NHL this season, roughly 9 percent of the league.

“We have more Swedish players than ever in the NHL, and we are extremely pleased that the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series will allow us to showcase a number of those players, with their NHL teams, in their homeland,” Bettman said. “The return of regular-season NHL games to the international stage will provide yet another highlight for our Centennial celebration.”