Last time they played, Lightning center Brian Bradley best expressed Tampa Bay's woes against Washington with a statement of bewildered frustration:
"Maybe we should try something different against these guys."
The suddenly hot Lightning did that Friday night.
It tried winning _ and succeeded, beating the Capitals 2-1 at USAir Arena for Tampa Bay's first victory over Washington in its past eight tries.
"We did it by beating them at their own game," said Bradley, who set up Paul Ysebaert early in the third period for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
"When you play the Washington Capitals, you know you're in for three periods of good, defensive hockey. They don't give many opportunities. We tried to play what they did tonight, and not get in the run-and-gun. And it worked."
The Lightning's victory was its third in a row (a feat it accomplished last in January of 1994) and its fourth in the past five games _ all of them with Daren Puppa in net. Before this recent run of success, the Lightning had won just one game in 10.
"We're over the hump," said Bradley, who has 16 assists in his past 15 games, "and now we just have to keep thinking positive."
Puppa, who missed three games during the skid (all losses) with a wrist injury, faced 11 shots in the opening period and 14 in the second period. He turned away everything except Sylvain Cote's one-timer from the slot 3:41 into the game.
And in the third period, Washington registered only two shots on goal.
"We don't have too many third periods like that," said Puppa, who watched third-period leads slip away early this season.
"We made the right decisions in our own end in the third, and we won all the one-on-one battles," Ysebaert said. "And those were the two things we weren't doing when we lost all those games."
Before Friday Tampa Bay had beaten Washington once in their 13-game series, and the Capitals had gone 6-0-1 in the past seven.
Furthermore, goalie Jim Carey had cast a spell over Tampa Bay, winning each of his five starts and recording two of five career shutouts against the Lightning.
But the Lightning got to Carey with an unassisted goal by Shawn Burr, who tied the score with 1:07 left in the opening period on a slap shot from the blue line, through Cote's screen and past the second-year Caps goalie.
After Ysebaert scored his fifth goal in the past seven games, one-timing Bradley's pass from behind to the net to beat Carey to his short side, the Lightning went on the defensive against Washington, which has been struggling lately on offense. "We played disciplined," Lightning coach Terry Crisp said. "We didn't panic. It just goes to show that when you play the system it works."
The Caps, playing without injured Peter Bondra, had just nine goals during a recent six-game winless span in which it went 0-5-1. Its power play is zero for its past 31.
But Washington won't be scrapping its tight-checking, defensive play in hopes of a quick fix.
"Our style of play actually creates scoring opportunities," coach Jim Schoenfeld said. "The defensive style actually enhances our ability to score, not hurt it. And our opportunities have been there. It's just a matter of capitalizing."
Something the Lightning did, for a change, against the Capitals.
"We finally beat these guys," Bradley said. "Can you believe it?"