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.