WASHINGTON — Antero Niittymaki was spread-eagle in front of the net, his head low to the ice, legs, sticks and bodies flashing before his eyes. Still, the Lightning goaltender said, "I was seeing the puck all the time."
In one second, bang-bang backhanders by Washington's Brendan Morrison and Jason Chimera were gloved, two seconds after Eric Fehr's wrist shot was blocked. That was quite a start to the second period, and the kind of performance Tampa Bay has wanted from its goaltenders, which led to the kind of win it needed, 3-2 over the league-best Capitals on Friday night at the Verizon Center.
"Niitty played great," center Steven Stamkos said. "He made the saves when he had to."
And the Lightning (28-28-11), which looked so bad during a 1-6-1 streak, kept itself in the postseason conversation by snapping a seven-game road losing streak at Washington to move four points behind the Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 15 games left. "Probably the best road game we played all year," Niittymaki said.
Sure, there was luck involved.
Vinny Lecavalier scored the winner with 4:48 left in the second period, when Matt Walker's high wrist shot deflected in off the captain's left forearm for a 3-1 lead as Lecavalier ducked to get out of the way. "It was coming right at my face," he said. "It was a lucky goal."
But there also was much-needed secondary scoring. Neither Stamkos nor Marty St. Louis scored, the first time that has happened since Jan. 19 against the Rangers. Brandon Bochenski's second goal of the season with 48.9 seconds left in the first tied the score 1-1. Walker's second made it 2-1 with 8:30 left in the second.
The defense blocked 20 shots, including three by Mike Lundin, who shadowed Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin and held him to one shot.
"It's just a lesson," coach Rick Tocchet said. "We have to play with passion. The bench was alive."
And Niittymaki was solid after being pulled from three of his previous five starts and going 1-3-0 with a 5.75 goals-against average and .837 save percentage. The 14-save second period was his masterpiece, with 13 saves in the first 9:17 to preserve a 1-1 tie.
"You don't let them score, and it takes the wind out of their sails" Walker said.
And the Lightning outshot Washington 10-1 the rest of the period. "They came pretty hard the first 10 minutes, but other than that we were in total control the whole time," Niittymaki said. "Guys played hard. We didn't get rattled. We played a really good game."
First Period—1, Washington, Fleischmann 20 (Ovechkin, Knuble), 16:54 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Bochenski 2 (Fedoruk, Lundin), 19:11. Penalties—Bradley, Was (slashing), 8:38; Szczechura, TB (holding), 16:05.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, M.Walker 2 (Veilleux, Thompson), 11:30. 4, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 19 (M.Walker, Purcell), 15:12. Penalties—Purcell, TB (hooking), 2:09; Foster, TB (tripping), 6:16.
Third Period—5, Washington, Laich 21 (Green, Ovechkin), 11:09 (pp). Penalties—M.Walker, TB (slashing), 10:40. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-10-10—27. Washington 8-14-8—30. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 1; Washington 2 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 18-12-5 (30 shots-28 saves). Washington, Varlamov 13-3-3 (27-24). A—18,277 (18,277).