TAMPA — The backdrop to tonight's game between the Lightning and Capitals is all about emotions.
Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin comes off a two-game suspension for a knee-to-knee hit with the declaration the punishment might get him "more angry."
"I hope," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said, "our players are aggravated, too."
Not so much at Ovechkin — though Tampa Bay has had its issues with the left wing — but that the Lightning has been Washington's whipping post.
The Capitals have beaten Tampa Bay 11 straight games. So when the Southeast Division rivals face off for the first time this season, Tocchet said the Lightning has something to prove.
"It's big," he said. "It's big for us to see where we stand. This is important to see where we are as a franchise and the players we have here."
It has not been a fair fight.
The Capitals are tops in the East, and their five regulation losses are fewest in the league. They have outscored the Lightning 47-24 during the streak, including 30-14 in six games last season, 15-3 in the first period.
"No," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, "we don't have a super game plan in the back room to beat Tampa Bay."
What he has is Ovechkin, the two-time league MVP who last season scorched Tampa Bay for six goals and 13 points. Defenseman Mike Green and forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin help round out an offense with a league-best 108 goals. But Tocchet sees more. He sees grit.
"They say they're fancy, but they won battles against us," he said. "We just had no pushback for them."
And no reaction when Ovechkin in March celebrated his 50th goal of the season by waving his hands over his stick as if it was too hot to handle.
"I'm not talking about goon hockey," Tocchet said. "We're just looking for the personnel on our team to push back, especially our leadership group.
"I'm looking for Vinny (Lecavalier) and Marty (St. Louis) and (Mattias) Ohlund to establish not the hate, but that it's going to be a rough ride. We've got to establish something with this team so the young guys realize the importance of these games, to create that rivalry. We need that intensity."
That Tampa Bay is better should help. Still, Lecavalier said, "I'm sure it will be mentioned we didn't get any (points) last year."
"Change your mind-set? No," said forward Jeff Halpern, a former Capitals captain. "Maybe you bear down a little more when you know a team has gotten the better of you, and hopefully, as a team, we make adjustments. You have to have your best game to beat a team like that."
Or to keep beating the Lightning, Boudreau said.
"Before this year, I don't think they had a lot of depth and we caught them at the right time of their schedule," he said. "Either they played the night before or they had a lot of injuries.
"Right now, they have a really good team, and they scare the hell out of me."
Consider that a Lightning victory.
MINOR MOVE: Center Blair Jones was reassigned to AHL Norfolk.