The Tampa Bay Lightning can ill-afford a losing streak at this point of the season with a playoff spot within reach.
But playing the Washington Capitals, the Lightning just didn't have enough firepower to overcome the top team in the NHL points-wise and fell 5-3, dropping their second game in a row.
Tampa Bay rallied from a two-goal deficit in the first period but couldn't replicate the feat in the third when the Capitals again went back in front by two. The Lightning drop two points behind Toronto for the second wild card, the Maple Leafs losing in overtime to Chicago.
The Bolts will get a much-needed break with no games the next two days. Then they'll have 11 games remaining in the regular season to crawl their way into a playoff position.
Washington proved to be too much for the Lightning to handle Saturday night. What made the Capitals that much better? We'll take a closer look in 3 Things we learned from a loss to the Caps.
Video: Cooper on Bolts' 5-3 loss to Capitals
1. CAPS DEADLY POWER PLAY
The final scoresheet shows Washington went 1-for-2 on the power play.
But, in reality, the Capitals were able to net three special teams goals.
The Capitals took the lead less than four minutes into the game after the Lightning were whistled for an inexcusable too many men penalty, the Caps moving the puck with quick, precise passing to set up T.J. Oshie for a wide-open shot in the slot.
With the score tied 2-2 in the third period, the Capitals got another early-period power play. Although time expired on the power play, 13 seconds after Jonathan Drouin exited the box, Justin Williams took advantage of the still scrambling Bolts, getting a piece of Matt Niskanen's blast from the blue line to deflect the puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
A little more than two minutes later, the Caps scored on a delayed penalty, John Carlson batting a puck out of the air in front of the net and bouncing it past Vasilevskiy.
"They're really good," Killorn said about the Caps' power play. "It's a group that has been, other than Oshie, together for so long and they just know each other so well that no matter how good you are, they have one extra player than you. They can find seams. We just can't put them on the power play. We did a good job on the second one but they scored on the end there. It's too dangerous of a power play to give them any opportunity to score."
The quick succession of goals in the third period proved to be too much to overcome for the Lightning a second time.
"You sit here and say, tie game going into the third, we were going to take our chances," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "That was tough. We take the penalty and we get through it and then we just stopped playing. Our defensive awareness, we can't let that happen. They're changing, coming off the bench. To give up that chance, that's a tough one. It's a one-goal game, but you can't give up that fourth one. Killer."
Video: WSH@TBL: Killorn nets wrister while falling to ice
2. GREAT RESPONSE
The Lightning easily could have folded after falling behind 2-0 early to the NHL's best team.
In fact, two months ago, Tampa Bay probably gets blown out by the Capitals.
But this is a more resilient team than the one that struggled through the first four months of the regular season. Climbing out of a hole, even to a team as talented as Washington, is no longer seen as an insurmountable challenge.
Their response after going down 2-0 in the first was impressive. Before the period had expired, the Bolts battled back to draw even 2-2 heading into the first intermission.
"We showed a lot of character coming back during the first period," Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said.
Both Lightning goals in the first period came 16 seconds apart. Nikita Kucherov scored first, tallying his NHL-leading 15th power-play goal at 15:52 to cut the deficit in half.
Seconds later, Killorn sent a jolt of energy through AMALIE Arena, wheeling around a fallen Niskanen in the right circle and firing a shot into the goal while being dragged down to level the score 2-2.
The Lightning went into the first intermission with a huge boost of momentum as a result.
"I think to score two goals in a pretty quick amount of time was good for us," Killorn said. "Confidence-wise, it got us back into the game. It just seemed like in that third period we had an opportunity to come out and win the game and we came out pretty flat. That's not good enough against probably the best team in the league."
Video: Killorn on Bolts needing to step up
3. NO GAS IN THE TANK
Killorn alluded to Tampa Bay's fatigue when he admitted the Lightning came out "flat" in the third period.
That seems inexcusable for a team fighting to get into the playoffs, but the fact is, the Lightning were playing their fifth game in eight days, playing against the best team in the NHL and doing so with almost half of their forward lines made up of guys that would probably be in the AHL if the Bolts had all their players healthy.
The Lightning battled the Capitals toe-to-toe for 40 minutes. Unfortunately, they didn't have enough fight in the third to match the Caps.
"We've found ways to win with this lineup, and we're playing good teams," Cooper said. "We're playing teams that are in the playoffs. They're already a 100-point team I think, aren't they? It's tough. You're hanging in there with them. We've pulled some of these games out and some we haven't. It's tough here because our identity is we've got to keep the puck out of the net. That's why we've been winning. To give up back-to-back fives is tough, even though there was an empty net in there. Hard to win when you're doing that."
The Lightning had one final push, Kucherov netting his second goal of the game with 1:30 remaining and Vasilevskiy pulled for the extra attacker. The Bolts continued applying pressure over the last minute-plus, but Oshie put the game away by lifting a puck and watching it trickle into the empty net to record a hat trick.
"It felt like we were going to tie it again, but we just didn't have that luck on our side tonight," Hedman said. "We can't let this break us. We've just got to refocus. A couple days off and get ready for Arizona."