WASHINGTON — After Steven Stamkos collected the puck out of the faceoff circle Saturday night against the Capitals, he immediately headed up the ice.
He knew time was ticking down in overtime, but unsure of how many seconds were left, the Lightning captain put his head down and raced through the neutral zone like a runaway train.
Victor Hedman, who hit another gear to leave Capitals star Alex Ovechkin in the dust, accompanied Stamkos on a 2-on-1 break. But Stamkos opted to end the game himself, rifling a wrister from the right circle past goaltender Vitek Vanecek, scoring with 14.2 seconds left to give the Lightning their second straight extra-session victory, 2-1.
“I knew it was probably the last rush of the game, so I was going to shoot it,” Stamkos said. “And it’s nice to see it go in.”
Two days after erasing three three-goal deficits in regulation on their way to a 7-6 overtime win against the Red Wings, the Lightning (2-1-0) pulled more late-game magic on the back end of their first road trip of the season, rallying again from a third-period deficit, this time 1-0.
The defensive battle was more akin to the kind of championship hockey the Lightning played the past two seasons: strong goaltending, good defense, solid special-teams play and heady resolve in tight moments.
“This is what we’re more accustomed to show; it’s more our style of play,” Stamkos said. “We can run and gun, for sure. We’ve done that in the past, but what’s made us successful the last couple of years is the ability to play in these types of games, in close games.”
The Lightning lost star forward Nikita Kucherov midway through the third period with an undisclosed lower-body injury and played with five defensemen for most of the game with Jan Rutta and Ryan McDonagh spending time sidelined. The Lightning’s top left-shot defensemen carried a heavier load: Hedman played 29:15, Mikhail Sergachev 27:17 and McDonagh 25:07.
Though they were outshot 33-24, the Lightning had the better scoring opportunities. According to statistics website Natural Stat Trick, they dominated the Capitals in high-danger scoring chances 13-1. Despite that, the Lightning entered the third period trailing.
“To be down 1-0, I thought, was a little bit of a disservice after two periods because I thought we had ample chances,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It was just … one of those games where … the process had to take over. I just told the guys, ‘Don’t chase the game. We’re totally fine.’ And that was it, and they stuck with it.”
A Stamkos turnover in the Lightning zone allowed Ovechkin to come off the bench, take the puck and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy for the game’s first goal with 1:09 left in the second. Both teams had a goal overturned in the game. Vasilevskiy finished with 32 saves, including 12 in the third period.
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Sergachev tied the score 4:23 into the third with his first goal of the season. The defenseman zipped a snap shot from the left side of the blue line through an Anthony Cirelli screen in front of the net.
“(The Capitals are) tough to play against, obviously, so it took a long shot from the blue line to score one,” Sergachev said. “It doesn’t happen much. I wouldn’t call it lucky, but their goalie played well and they played tight defensively, and we found a way to find an open slot and score.”
The Lightning’s revamped penalty kill, which had to replace three of its top four forwards from last season, was 4-for-4, killing off Ondrej Palat’s interference penalty with 5:10 left in the third and a 4-on-3 Washington power play in overtime following Sergachev’s cross-checking penalty 1:21 into the extra session. “Hell of a penalty kill,” Sergachev said.
After coming out flat in their season-opening loss to the Penguins on Tuesday in Tampa, the Lightning return home with two hard-fought wins.
“It started with the game against Pittsburgh,” Sergachev said. “We didn’t play well. I thought we played better in Detroit, just had some unfortunate bounces, and (Saturday) was, I felt like, complete effort. Everybody picked up each other and played the team game.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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