TAMPA — The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin went into Monday's game historically hot and the talk of the league, thanks to back-to-back hat tricks.
But it was another Russian star, Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov, who stole the show in a potentially galvanizing 4-3 overtime win in front of a crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena.
After Tampa Bay rallied from a two-goal deficit, Kucherov's highlight-reel backhand goal off the rush midway through the third period tied the score. And it was Kucherov's blast from the left circle that went in off Brayden Point for the winner.
"(Ovechkin) is that elite shooter. (Sidney Crosby) is the workhorse," said Lightning wing Chris Kunitz, who played with Crosby in Pittsburgh. "But there's an elite level that Kucherov plays in the game. Scoring big goals at big times is something not very many guys have in this league, and it's something you have to want. And he definitely wants that."
This game had everything. It had superstars stepping up. There were spectacular saves, such as Andrei Vasilevskiy thwarting a 4-on-1 in the first. There was controversy, with a faceoff-violation call on the Lightning's Yanni Gourde in the second that could have swung the game toward the Capitals. And the game was decided in overtime on a power play. What could be better?
"It was fun to be a part of," Kucherov said.
The Lightning (2-1-0) wanted to bounce back after a 5-4 loss to the Panthers on Saturday.
"A reality check," Alex Killorn called that game.
Tampa Bay played a much better, more complete game Monday, allowing just 26 shots after giving up 84 combined in its first two of the season.
Ovechkin, with seven goals in his first two games, had no points and was minus-2.
"What Florida did to us last game, I think in the second and third periods, we did to Washington," Kucherov said.
The Capitals did have their share of chances, but Vasilevskiy — starting his third game in four nights — was typically up to the task. On the 4-on-1 in the first period, Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi got Ovechkin to pass, and Vasilevskiy made a stellar sprawling save on Taylor Chorney. Vasilevskiy also robbed Evgeny Kuznetsov twice early.
The Capitals scored twice near the end of the first, one the first of two power-play goals it scored (this one by T.J. Oshie).
The Lightning bounced back with Killorn — having an inspired start to the season — one-timing a Point pass to cut the Capitals' lead to one early in the second.
"We were a determined group," coach Jon Cooper said.
That was especially true after Gourde's questionable faceoff penalty led to Oshie's second goal and a 3-1 Capitals lead, which could have crushed the Lightning.
"That next goal was a big one for us," Cooper said. "We were a little bit of a fragile team."
That's when Kunitz settled everything down, battling in front and tipping in a point shot to bring the Lightning back to life. Kunitz's line with Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan was the unsung star of the game.
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"After that goal, there was a weight off our shoulders," Cooper said.
Then Kucherov put the Lightning on his shoulders. Quiet early in the game, Kucherov was a beast late, racking up 12 total shot attempts. The tying goal came on a textbook ticktacktoe play. Anton Stralman sent a pass off the boards to center ice, where Killorn craftily redirected the puck to a streaking Kucherov, who had only Chorney to beat.
"He's not one of those players you really dream of facing one-on-one and with a lot of speed," Stralman quipped.
Kunitz said Kucherov is more like Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, thriving when he has the puck on his stick. "He can control the tempo of the game," Kunitz said.
Kucherov did on the tying goal, spinning Chorney around before willing a one-handed backhand over goaltender Philipp Grubauer's shoulder. It was his third goal in as many games.
"Not too many guys can go in at that speed and roof a backhand," Cooper said. "But if you watch (Kucherov) on a daily basis, he practices all that stuff. And he gets rewarded.
First Period—1, Washington, Backstrom 1 (Burakovsky, Oshie), 16:42. 2, Washington, Oshie 2 (Backstrom, Carlson), 18:05 (pp). Penalties—Ness, WSH, (cross checking), 4:32; Ness, WSH, (hooking), 13:41; Gourde, TB, (slashing), 17:03.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Killorn 1 (Coburn, Point), 5:28. 4, Washington, Oshie 3 (Kuznetsov, Backstrom), 7:49 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, Kunitz 1 (Paquette, Stralman), 18:09. Penalties—Tampa Bay bench, served by Gourde (delay of game), 7:13; Connolly, WSH, (roughing), 12:01; Girardi, TB, (roughing), 12:01; Girardi, TB, served by Gourde, (cross checking), 12:01; Orpik, WSH, (roughing), 12:01; Paquette, TB, (roughing), 12:01; Beagle, WSH, (slash), 15:18; Stamkos, TB, (slash), 19:46.
Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 3 (Killorn, Stralman), 10:46. Penalties—Washington bench, served by Connolly (too many men on the ice), 3:28.
OT—7, Tampa Bay, Point 3 (Stamkos, Kucherov), 3:08 (pp). Penalties—Washington bench, served by Ovechkin (too many men on the ice), 1:21. Shots on Goal—Washington 9-10-6-1—26. Tampa Bay 9-9-17-5—40. Power-play opportunities—Washington 2 of 4; Tampa Bay 1 of 5. Goalies—Washington, Grubauer 1-0-0 (40 shots-36 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 1-1-1 (26-23).