With 5:30 left and the Capitals ahead by two goals, the Lightning pulled goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for the extra skater. For the final minutes of Wednesday’s game, the night’s outcome would be placed on the shoulders of Washington’s defense and netminder Ilya Samsonov.
He allowed a power-play goal with 2:50 left, but the Capitals and Samsonov held on for a much-needed 4-3 win at Capital One Arena as Samsonov earned a win in his first start in nearly two weeks.
“He made a couple of big saves throughout the game,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “You need that, you need those big ones and I thought he was good. But he also seemed to keep himself in the game and dialed in. He had to.”
In the win over the defending champions, Samsonov made 25 saves on 28 Tampa Bay shots. But there were a few, notably a big stick save in the first period, that Washington needed throughout the night.
“They pushed and pressed the entire game,” Laviolette said. “They were behind, they kept coming and without that, you're going to need some saves from your goaltender and he gave them to us tonight.”
The Capitals’ goaltending situation has been in flux for a majority of the year, but recently, Vitek Vanecek has been the team’s No. 1 starter. In turn, Samsonov has made just three starts since Feb. 26 and had taken a clear backseat role.
But over the last few games, Vanecek’s play has slipped. He’s just 1-4-0 in his last five starts with a .863 save percentage and a 4.16 goals against average. That led Laviolette to say earlier in the week he was looking for someone to take control of the No. 1 starting job before the playoffs begin in May.
With Samsonov between the pipes, the Capitals jumped out to an early lead and hung onto it, something that’s plagued them in recent games.
“I think Sammy’s save to keep it where it was at was huge and that kind of goes hand-in-hand with our record, especially our home record and getting out to better starts,” defenseman John Carlson said.
After Wednesday, just 12 games remain before the postseason begins. With a back-to-back upcoming over the weekend, it’s expected both Samsonov and Vanecek will get time in net.
Wednesday, though, was a nice start for Samsonov in his attempt to win back the No. 1 job.