The cool air you feel blowing through the Baltimore/DC area is actually the collective sighs of relief from Caps nation after a big win last night. Or maybe it's the cold front that is supposed to bring snowfall to our area tomorrow, frankly I can't tell either way. But in Sunrise Florida last night the Capitals luck seemed to take a turn for the better. But it didn't start out great, the 1st period looked as if to be another in a long line of solid Capital efforts that would yield nothing more than a deficit to overcome. Former Capital Tomas Fleischmann scored to put the Panthers on top 1-0 marking the first time this year Capitals net-minder and former Florida Panther Tomas Vokoun had allowed the Panthers to dent the twine behind him. The Caps played a very solid 2nd period also, but yielded very little results until Mike Knuble scored on a tipped shot late in the 2nd......all is well the Caps have turned things around here we go time for this team to get rolling.........wait a minute.....what do you mean no goal? That's right, the on ice officials waved off the goal and gave Mike Knuble a very suspect goalie interference minor penalty. There it was another example of disappointment from the Capitals this season. The game went into the 3rd period with the Panthers leading 1-0 and the Caps and their fans feeling like it would just be one of those nights again. Then it happened, the Capitals luck changed. Panthers goalie and you guessed it former Capital Jose Theodore stopped a shot from the point then the puck found its way through a maze of sticks and skates right to Alexander Ovechkin below the right circle. Ovechkin fired a wrist shot that found its way through a tiny hole that Theodore had left open above his right shoulder knotting the game at 1. In a season where I've seen the Capitals miss more open nets because of bouncing pucks and broken sticks and hit posts, this was a welcome good break for the Caps finally. Later in the 3rd the other Alex in DC Alexander Semin fired a slap shot that ramped up off of a Panther defenseman's stick and over Theodore's glove to lift the Caps to a 2-1 lead. The Capitals survived a furious effort from the Panthers in the final 30 seconds to hold on and pull within 2 points of the Panthers in the Southeast Division race. The Capitals are now 3-2 against the Panthers this year, and Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun has stopped 84 of 85 shots in 3 games against his former team.
Tonight the Capitals travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning and take another shot at getting some revenge on the team that eliminated them in the conference semi-finals of last years playoffs. The Capitals have been eliminated from the playoffs twice in their history by the lightning, as the lightning knocked the Caps out back in the spring of 2003 the only other playoff meeting between the two teams. Like most of the Capitals other playoff exits that was a heartbreaking affair. A Capitals team lead by Jaromir Jagr took games 1 and 2 in Tampa by a combined score of 9-3, only to lose the next 4 including game 6 at home in overtime sparking my eternal hatred of Martin St. Louis the games winning goal scorer. They say rivalries are born in the playoffs, after all that's why the Caps fans hate the Rangers, Flyers, and most of all the Penguins. But after last year you'd have to throw the Lightning in that same category. Lets face it in our own division who do you hate more than the Lightning? If you're the same kind of Caps fan I am then just the site of St. Louis of Vincent Lecavalier, and now Steven Stamkos makes you enraged. You remember watching the handshake line last year and how disappointing that series was and the down times this group of lightning players has brought you. In fact I could type a 3 million page article on all the playoff disappointments of this franchise but I'll spare you for now. While the Capitals can't get true revenge by beating the Lightning tonight, they can put themselves closer to locking up a playoff spot and push Tampa further from getting one. Currently the Capitals sit in 9th in the Eastern Conference 1 point behind the Maple Leafs in the 8th and final playoff spot, Tampa is in 12th 8 points back of the Leafs. If the Lightning are to make a playoff run they can't afford many more losses. Tonight should be 2 teams giving absolutely everything they have to get 2 points that could make or break their seasons. So far this season the Capitals are 2-0-1 against the Lightning with both wins coming from the friendly confines of Verizon Center in DC, but if the Caps want a win tonight they'll need to bring their a game as Tampa has 16-9-2 record at home this year. For the Capitals they'll need their stars to show up again tonight, and they'll need their grinders to work the cycle game and wear down the Lightning defenders. Back to back games are always tough and the team playing their 2nd game in as many nights usually tires in the 3rd, the Caps cannot allow this to happen. Solid goal-tending would also be nice as Tampa has a very powerful lineup offensively. Coaches frequently switch goalies on back to back nights, but it looks as if Dale Hunter may go with Vokoun for the 2nd night in a row. Vokoun has played very solid lately having only allowed 10 goals in his last six starts and is almost in the form we expected him to be all year long. Tonight's game is a chance for the Caps to come out of South Florida with a 4 point sweep of 2 division foes and that's a great way to kick-start a march to the playoffs.
Players To Watch Tonight:
Steven Stamkos (The Lightning forward leads the NHL with 39 goals, and always seems to get one against the Caps, our D man have to shut him down tonight)
Mike Knuble (He returned to the lineup last night, and while he may not put up any stats he must cause havoc in front of Tampa's net tonight for the Caps to get a W)