Win or lose, Capitals coach Adam Oates has a policy of not addressing his team after a game.
“Because you don’t want to say something you might regret later,” Oates said.
Saturday night’s heart-thumping 6-5 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at VerizonCenter was one that would test any coach’s patience.
The Caps blew leads of 4-0 and 5-1 and saw the Lightning force overtime when Teddy Purcell scored with 2:35 remaining in regulation.
But they also sent their fans home happy when Mike Green blasted a power-play slapshot past goaltender Mathieu Garon 2:59 into the extra period.
“We have to learn from this,” Green said. “We can’t let situations like that happen. They used to call us the Cardiac Kids for a reason and we showed that tonight.”
According to STATS, before Saturday night the Caps had not blown a four-goal lead since Dec. 11, 2006, when they surrendered a 4-0 lead to the Penguins in a 5-4 shootout loss.
Saturday night’s collapse began after the Caps grabbed a 5-1 lead on goals by Troy Brouwer, Jack Hillen, Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr. The fact that Fehr’s goal came with 5:26gone in the second period gave the Lightning plenty of time to put together a rally.
You get a four-goal lead, you think the game's over,” Chimera said. “Then the team plays a little looser and away they go."
The Lightning crept within 5-2 with Marty St. Louis’ first goal of the night late in the second period, then ambushed the Caps in the third period when Richard Panik scored his second of the game and St. Louis followed to make it 5-4 with more than 11 minutes remaining.
When Purcell sent the game into overtime with 2:35 remaining in regulation, the tension inside the Phone Booth was thicker than traffic around the tidal basin.
“It’s human nature. It happens to every team,” Oates said. “We’re all talking about doing the right things, but they smelled it. … When a team gets behind that much they play so reckless and you’re not trained to handle a reckless team.
“I’m not trying to use that as an excuse, but it’s just hard sometimes. We leaked a little oil, but fortunately we got it back.”
The Caps were able to pull the game out in overtime because a strong drive to the net by Marcus Johansson resulted in Vincent Lecavalier hauling him down for a slashing penalty.
“We scratched and clawed to get a point but ultimately we didn’t finish them off,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s tough when you take that penalty.”
Regardless of how they did it, the Caps will wake up Sunday morning with a four-point lead in the Southeast Division with six games to play.
If there is a lesson to be learned from Saturday’s win, Ovechkin says he hopes the Caps have mastered it.
“I hope next time when we get a lead like that we’re not going to stop playing and we’re going to play our way,” Ovechkin said. “Play simple. That’s the most important thing. When we’re up 5-1 we don’t have to score any more goals. It’s a good lesson for us.”