WASHINGTON (AP) — This was more like it for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They needed to stage another comeback, but this time the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions followed a familiar recipe when it mattered most.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was perfect after allowing Alex Ovechkin's 733rd career goal, Steven Stamkos scored in overtime and Tampa Bay came back to beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 Saturday night.
Two nights after a furious, three-goal comeback to win 7-6 in OT at Detroit, the Lightning stuck to their championship process and were rewarded with a hard-fought victory.
"We can run and gun, for sure — we’ve done that in the past," Stamkos said after scoring with 14.2 seconds left in overtime. “What’s made us successful the last couple years is the ability to play in these types of games: In close games, rely on our good goaltending, rely on our special teams, rely on our solid 5-on-5 play, and we saw a lot of that tonight.”
It came at the cost of two more injuries: 2019 MVP Nikita Kucherov and top-pairing defenseman Jan Rutta left and did not return.
Kucherov, who missed the entire 2021 regular season after a hip surgery, doubled over in pain during the third period and exited the ice. Tampa Bay's leading scorer on each of the past two Cup runs will be re-evaluated, according to coach Jon Cooper.
"It didn’t look good," Stamkos said. "We’re praying that he’s OK.”
Vasilevskiy, the reigning playoff MVP who's considered the best goaltender in hockey, allowed only Ovechkin's goal late in the second period with his countryman using Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman as a screen. Vasilevskiy stopped Ovechkin several times in the third, including one save with the thinnest part of his stick.
He also came up big on a 4-on-3 penalty kill in OT with Mikhail Sergachev in the box for cross-checking.
“We play pretty strong team and obviously one of the best goalie in the league," said Ovechkin, who came close to scoring again on the shift after his first before Vasilevskiy stopped the puck on the goal line. "If you have those kind of chances, especially in that kind of game, you have to use it. Obviously we had them a lot.”
The Russian superstar has three goals in two games since turning 36 and starting a five-year contract to chase Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894. Ovechkin ranks fifth and is now eight back of Brett Hull for fourth.
“Still had a good year last year, but you can see the jump and this year,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “When you’re moving better, you’re getting in spaces and you’re finding plays. His goals last game that he scored, he’s beating people to the inside and getting inside position, getting his shot off, so he looks good.”
Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek stopped 22 of 24 shots in the OT loss. The only goal he allowed in regulation came on a shot from Sergachev just inside the blue line that tied it early in the third.
"I haven’t scored in a while," Sergachev said. “I felt like vintage me, my first year when I was scoring from the blue line three years ago. It felt great getting on the board.”
The Lightning got a scare in the second period when defenseman Ryan McDonagh took an inadvertent stick to the face from teammate Erik Cernak. McDonagh skated off holding a towel to the left side of his face but returned roughly nine minutes later.
Capitals center Lars Eller skated in his 800th regular-season NHL game, joining Frans Nielsen as the only players from Denmark to reach that mark. He needs 126 more games to pass Nielsen for the most among Danes in league history.
BORIS GOOD ENOUGH
Forward Boris Katchouk became the second Lightning player to make his NHL debut in the first three games of the season, replacing fellow newbie Taylor Raddysh in the lineup. The Waterloo, Ontario, native was a second-round pick in 2016 and spent the past three years in the American Hockey League before finally earning an NHL job in training camp.
“He gets after it, Boris,” Cooper said. “When he’s getting himself engaged, he can win puck battles, he’s good around the net. He’s got a little grit to his game, which we like. He’s proved it in the American League. He’s been one of those guys that’s just progressed all the way up, and now it’s his turn to get in.”
Lightning: Return home to face the rival Florida Panthers on Tuesday.
Capitals: Host the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday in what could be Nathan MacKinnon’s season debut.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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