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Tampa Bay Lightning beats Washington Capitals 4-2 in Game 1 of Eastern Conference semis

WASHINGTON — If there ever was a time the Lightning could have folded, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Capitals was it.

With a bench shortened by the losses of left wing Simon Gagne and defenseman Pavel Kubina to possible concussions, the team was depleted.

Playing on two days of rest after a seven-game series with the Penguins, it was exhausted.

What it was not was defeated. The Lightning earned a gratifying 4-2 victory Friday night at the Verizon Center.

"The players," coach Guy Boucher said, "gave beyond what they can give in this game."

The turning point was 3 minutes, 11 seconds of the second period in which Steve Downie and Steven Stamkos scored to overcome a 2-1 deficit.

Downie scored when the puck deflected past goalie Michal Neuvirth off the stick of defenseman Scott Hannan. Stamkos, on the power play, gave Tampa Bay the lead with 31.6 seconds left.

"That was huge," he said. "It swung the momentum a little bit. Those goals are always killers to give up."

Sean Bergenheim scored. Dominic Moore had an empty-netter with 40 seconds left, goaltender Dwayne Roloson made 26 saves, including 14 in the first period, and the penalty kill was 5-for-5 and is 39-for-40 in the playoffs.

But the story for Tampa Bay was its response to adversity.

First it was Gagne, who seemed to be briefly knocked unconscious 7:22 into the first period when his head hit the ice after a Hannan check in the corner. A stretcher was brought out, but Gagne skated off the ice with help.

Then it was Kubina, whose head hit the glass with 2:00 left in the second period because of a check from Justin Chimera, whose roughing call led to Stamkos' goal.

"For us, they're not numbers; they're people," Boucher said of his players. "The first thing that comes to mind is not that I lost a player, but I hope his health is okay."

Still, there were practical consequences.

When Gagne went down, the Lightning, which began with 11 forwards instead of the usual 12 — a tactical maneuver by Boucher — was down to 10. That's a lot of extra ice time to divide up. Boucher said players kept shifts short as 20 seconds to conserve energy.

"It was very tight," Boucher said, "and very exhausting for our players."

"We tried to be aware," Stamkos said. "We had to manage the puck and apply pressure in their zone and give our defense a chance to change."

The team also didn't panic, even after the Capitals took a 2-1 lead on goals helped by Lightning mistakes.

Brett Clark's defensive-zone giveaway led to Alexander Semin's goal that beat Roloson five-hole and tied the score 1-1 4:08 into the first period.

Eric Fehr gave Washington a 2-1 lead 1:51 into the second when no one picked up the puck after Vinny Lecavalier won a defensive-zone faceoff and defenseman Eric Brewer abandoned Fehr in front of the net.

It was the Capitals who then got away from their structure and began playing what coach Bruce Boudreau called "river hockey" and left wing Alex Ovechkin called "too cute."

"They make it frustrating," Boudreau said of playing catchup against the Lightning. "They just hang back. You're trying to push."

But the Lightning kept pushing back.

Tampa Bay Lightning beats Washington Capitals 4-2 in Game 1 of Eastern Conference semis 04/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 30, 2011 1:00am]
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