Capitals thump Lightning in a chippy one as Sonny Milano turns tide

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Sonny Milano picked a fine time to score his first goal as a Washington Capital. His second just capped a heated 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Capital One Arena — a victory that came with Coach Peter Laviolette away from the team while in the NHL’s health and safety protocols.

Milano raced out of the penalty box moments after the Capitals kept the visitors at bay on a five-minute penalty kill early in the second period. A loose puck found his stick, and he was soon all alone with Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. A few stick dekes, then a forehand flip of the puck, and the Capitals had doubled their lead to 2-0, seizing momentum they would not relinquish.

Milano, signed as a free agent less than a month ago, added a second goal with 2:15 remaining in the third that accounted for the final margin.

Aliaksei Protas gave the Capitals a 3-0 advantage late in an eventful middle period, and Conor Sheary finished a short-ice breakaway early in the third to push the lead to 4-0. Nick Perbix broke up Washington goalie Darcy Kuemper’s shutout bid with his one-timer from the left circle with 7:51 left in regulation. Kuemper finished with 28 saves.

Milano’s first goal changed the contest. Five minutes earlier, Nicholas Aube-Kubel was ejected for an illegal check to the head on Cal Foote. The hit left Foote bloodied in the face, and Aube-Kubel was assessed a match penalty, given when the referee decides a player “attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.”

“Whenever you can kill off a five-minute major like that, regardless of the goal — which was kind of a cherry on top coming out of the box there — it kind of changed the tide in the game and something that the whole team builds off,” Kuemper said.

As the officials reviewed Aube-Kubel’s hit, tensions on the ice reached a boil. Multiple players left the bench, with Washington’s Garnet Hathaway and Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon both assessed five-minute fighting majors and 10-minute misconduct penalties. The fighting didn’t stop there. A line brawl broke out late in the third, with three Capitals players put into the box for a combination of major and minor penalties.

“Tonight was definitely a little nasty,” Milano said. “I’m sure it will carry over to [Sunday, when the teams meet again]. . . . Those are always fun. It’s hockey; it’s definitely physical. Definitely fun.”

Foote did not return after the hit. Asked about the defenseman’s status afterward, Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said: “Not great. He obviously couldn’t come back. That’s a tough hit. That defines the word blind-side. It’s too bad we’re playing them again [Sunday] because I doubt he will be around to see the game.”

Aube-Kubel probably will face a hearing from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Saturday. All match penalties are automatically reviewed by the league for a possible suspension.

Aube-Kubel has never been suspended in his five-year NHL career but has been fined twice.

Protas notched his third goal of the season when he punched in a rebound at 14:25 of the second before Sheary scored his fifth. Sheary converted a nice feed from Anthony Mantha, who scored the opener with 9:28 left in the first.

Friday was the last of four games on the Capitals’ longest homestand of the season; Washington went 2-2-0.

“If we play the game like how we want to and how we’re capable of, we’ll win a lot of games,” John Carlson said. “Doesn’t matter how many guys are out, how many guys are in, who it is and who we’re playing. And I think that’s what you see.”

Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ win:

Laviolette was placed in the covid-19 protocols Friday morning, and he also will miss Sunday’s game in Tampa.

The protocols require Laviolette to take another coronavirus test Monday. If that test turns up negative, he will be able to coach Tuesday against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.

Assistant Kevin McCarthy, who took over coaching duties Friday, will stay in that role until Laviolette returns. Friday was his first game acting as a head coach in the NHL. The last time he was a head coach was with the New Haven Beast in the American Hockey League in 1998-99.

Washington’s injury situation improved with Carlson playing in his first game since he was hurt Oct. 29 at Nashville. Carlson, usually a model of durability, missed six games.

“It is difficult because I have been in the lineup a lot, so it does not feel normal to me,” Carlson said. “Certainly when the team isn’t doing too well and guys are out, those are the times when leaders lead, and everyone has been doing a good job picking up the slack for guys that are out. But it is not a good feeling knowing you are not there to help.”

Carlson notched his 600th career point Friday with a primary assist on Milano’s first goal. He is the fifth Capitals player to reach that plateau.

Washington’s penalty kill was stellar against the Lightning. It killed off two power plays, including the five-minute penalty in the middle frame. Players were diving to stop pucks and aggressively using their sticks to poke away the puck.

The Capitals have killed off 11 straight power plays and 31 of 34 over their past 11 games.

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