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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a loss to the Caps

Bryan Burns on a rough third period, some costly turnovers and missed opportunities

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL /

The Tampa Bay Lightning have played probably 110 minutes of really good hockey out of 120 minutes plus overtime this season in two games against the NHL-leading Washington Capitals.

They have just one point to show for their hard work.

In a 4-3 overtime defeat in Washington D.C. November 29, the Lightning led 3-1 going into the final period but surrendered three-consecutive goals to lose a game they controlled through the first two periods.

And again Saturday at AMALIE Arena, the Lightning proved they could stand toe-to-toe with the League's best.

They just couldn't get a result.

Washington broke open a 1-1 game early in the third period, scoring a pair of goals in a :45-second span to take control. The Lightning cut the deficit to 3-2 on Jan Rutta's first-ever goal with the Lightning but gave it right back 1:03 later on T.J. Oshie's wraparound.

Tampa Bay lost 5-2 to Washington, the Lightning falling to 16-12-3 on the season.

"They're even games. That's it. They're even games," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of his team's two losses this season to the Caps. "You look at the score and go, 'Oh, 5-2.' It wasn't a 5-2 game. But it is 5-2. They got two points. We didn't get anything out of it. We're getting to the finish line, we've just got to get ourselves over it."

How did the Lightning squander an opportunity to knock off the League's top team?

We'll break it down with Three Things we learned from another loss to the Caps.

Video: Jon Cooper on the loss to WSH

Through two periods, Saturday's contest was an even affair.

In fact, if you were picking a team that had the better run of play over the first 40 minutes, it would have to be the Lightning.

It quickly got away from Tampa Bay in a :45-second span of lapses of judgment and inattention to detail in the third period.

A turnover at center ice led to a 3-on-2 for the Caps. Richard Panik got the puck in the slot and dished off to his right for Lars Eller, who blasted a one-timer by Andrei Vasilevskiy at the far post to re-establish Washington's lead.

On the next shift, the Lightning would fall into a deeper hole on a similar play. Again on a 3-on-2, Brendan Leipsic carried the puck to the middle of the ice and passed off to his right for Garnet Hathaway, who popped a backhander over Vasilevskiy from in close.

"To come out the way we did in the third on just two egregious plays that we've kind of gotten away from, haven't been doing those types of things, that was definitely a lack of attention to detail in the first three minutes and it cost us," Cooper said. "Can't do that, you can't do that against anybody but especially teams of that caliber.

Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said that third-period blitz by the Caps took the wind out of the Bolts' sails.

"Put ourselves in a big hole we couldn't get out of," McDonagh said.

Video: Rutta on scoring first goal with Bolts 

Tampa Bay was in the Christmas spirit Saturday against Washington.

The Lightning gifted the Capitals a couple goals.

And for a team that's lost just five times in regulation through 34 contests this season, the Caps certainly don't need any help finding ways to win.

Washington scored its opening goal on a bad giveaway by the Lightning right in front of their own net. Jan Rutta held the puck behind the Bolts goal while his team made a line change. As Ondrej Palat swung behind the net to come around with momentum and start the Lightning's breakout, Rutta made his move too, and the puck ended up getting tangled in Palat's skates and squirting right in front of the net. Nicklas Backstrom was in the fortuitous spot to take advantage of the error and put the Caps in front 1-0 at 6:42 of the first period.

"It was unfortunate," Rutta said after the game. "Just got to turn the page. It was pretty early in the game, so just keep going."

And in the third period, after Rutta had atoned for his mistake by netting his first goal of the season (and as a member of the Lightning) with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle, the Lightning gave the goal right back a minute later, T.J. Oshie drawing Vasilevskiy out of position on a move to the net on the right wing, swinging around behind the net still in possession and depositing the puck on the opposite side for the wraparound goal that effectively clinched the win for the Caps with 7:41 to go.

"It was unfortunate," Cooper said. "We get one back and we're pushing and to give one up a minute later again on another, you watch the tape and players will be sitting there going, 'Why did I do that?'"

The Lightning were in the giving mood Saturday night and it cost them two points and the opportunity to knock off the team at the top of the NHL standings currently.

Video: Postgame | Brayden Point

The Lightning tied the game 1-1 at 5:45 of the second period on the power play when Alex Killorn slid a brilliant, no-look pass into the slot for an arriving Brayden Point to one-time past Washington goalie Ilya Samsonov for Point's 12th goal of the season and sixth on the power play.

The Bolts kept pressing after tying the game and produced many more chances to score and take the lead.

Tampa Bay had the puck buried in the Capitals zone for over two minutes during one sequence, the Lightning even able to get a line change while a tired group of Caps continued to chase the Bolts around.

The Lightning couldn't get enough quality shots on goal to take advantage of the situation, however, and the Caps were eventually able to escape unscathed.

Tampa Bay drew two more penalties in the second period, tripping calls to Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. A disjointed power play couldn't break through though, in part because of the absence of Nikita Kucherov, who blocked a John Carlson shot with his leg midway thought the second and didn't return for the remainder of the game.

"We had our looks," McDonagh said. "We had to do some adjustments. We lost Kuch there, and obviously he's a big part of our PP."

For as much as the Lightning possessed the puck in the second period and held it in the offensive zone for large stretches by cycling the puck around and probing for an opening, they weren't able to generate enough high-quality scoring chances to severely test Samsonov.

The Lightning felt good about heading into the final period with the game tied 1-1.

But, truthfully, they should have gone into the locker room with the lead considering the way they controlled the middle frame.

"It's too bad. We left points out there tonight," Cooper said. "For 40 minutes, we left a lot of plays out there. We played the way we wanted to play. I thought we dictated a lot of the game. It was unfortunate we only had one, but we didn't feel we were giving up a whole lot."

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