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Burns: 3 Things we learned from capital punishment

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning have given up just three goals in the first period of their last 11 games combined.

Two of those goals have been scored by the Washington Capitals in separate meetings.

The Capitals have gone on to win both games.

For whatever reason, fast starts have been absent when the Lightning face the Capitals in recent times. The Bolts fell behind 4-0 at D.C.’s Verizon Center on November 27 before rallying to score two goals over the final 10 minutes and put the outcome of the game in doubt until the final horn.

On Saturday, the Lightning had their skates from the opening puck drop but again found themselves staring at a deficit to the Caps, this one 2-0 by the midpoint of the second period, a hole they again couldn’t climb out of.

The Lightning will get one more chance to dethrone the Caps when the teams meet for the third time in 22 days and final time this regular season on Friday in D.C.

In today’s 3 Things, the main takeaways from last night’s hard-luck loss

1. INJURY BUG STRIKES AGAIN

At Saturday’s morning skate, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he was hoping his team was nearing 100 percent health.

That was right after he announced Tyler Johnson would be lost for multiple games following a re-aggravation to an injury suffered in Thursday’s victory over Ottawa.

“Right when you think you’re kind of getting back to full strength, it’s another setback,” Cooper said. “When we thought there was potential we’d be fully healthy this week, it’s probably pushed back another week. Hopefully nobody else gets hurt.”

Well, Coop, about that last statement.

During warmups of Saturday’s game against Washington, Lightning second-year pro Jonathan Drouin skated and took rushes on the third line with Vladislav Namestnikov and Alex Killorn. When the lineup sheet was distributed to media, however, Drouin was scratched, fueling speculation he had been benched for a pair of bad giveaways against the Senators. The team revealed a short moment later, however, Drouin had suffered a lower-body injury.

Asked post-game whether Drouin had tweaked a previous ailment, Cooper responded: “Yeah, I’ve got to find out more now, but I think so, yeah.”

A few minutes into Saturday’s game, Ondrej Palat went down awkwardly along the boards and skated off the ice hunched over in pain. After going back into the locker room and re-emerging to test himself, Palat skated one more shift before leaving the game for good, the team announcing before the third period he was injured and wouldn’t return.

Palat is now day-to-day as well.

“We can’t find a way to get guys back,” Cooper said. “It’s too bad.”

The Lightning now have five forwards – Johnson, Palat, Drouin, Cedric Paquette and Erik Condra – on the shelf. They’ll have to rely on their organization depth in Syracuse to provide quality minutes while the quintet heals.

Hopefully, for good this time

2. BEAST OF THE EAST

Ben Bishop said the Lightning played one of their best games of the season in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 loss to Washington, and it’s hard to argue with his assessment.

The Lightning sent 36 shots toward Braden Holtby’s net, their second-highest shot output this season.

Many of those shots were high-quality chances. Valtteri Filppula alone had two wide-open attempts from the slot in the first five minutes but was unable to find the back of the net.

The Lightning had six shots to the Caps’ one midway through the first period. The Caps’ one, however, turned out to be the first goal of the game.

Tampa Bay shut down Washington’s vaunted power play, limiting the Caps to just a few shots on a pair of opportunities with the man-advantage.

The Bolts held Washington to 20 shots on the night and only one in the third period.

And yet, the Lightning still lost to a Washington team positioning itself as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

“I don’t think we could have worked any harder than we did tonight,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We executed a majority of the game plan and got some quality looks, it’s just the way it’s gone. I told the guys we play like this we’re going to win a lot more down the stretch. Hopefully we can build off of it.”

The Capitals sit atop the Metropolitan Division standings and are just one point behind Montreal for the top spot in the East.

“That’s a good team right there,” Stamkos said. “I thought we had the better of them tonight. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result we wanted.”

The Lightning will get one more chance against the Caps this season when they travel to D.C. for the series finale on Friday.

3. IMPORTANT ROAD TRIP UPCOMING

With Saturday’s loss, the Lightning remain in sixth place in the Atlantic, four points back of Boston and Ottawa for the third in the division, although the Bruins have two games in hand.

As of now, the Bolts are 11th in the Eastern Conference and three points back of the final wild card spot.

Losses in games the Lightning were deserving of a point and maybe two are starting to take their toll.

“It’s not October anymore,” Cooper said. “Christmas is right around the corner, and all of a sudden now we’re looking at the dog days come January, February and we’re going the wrong way in the standings.”

Upcoming back-to-backs at Columbus and Toronto, the last-place teams in the Metropolitan and

Atlantic Divisions, respectively, provide the Lightning an opportunity to pick up four quick points should they take care of business against beatable opponents.

Then Washington looms Friday. If the Bolts want to return to the Stanley Cup Final, the Caps might be the team they’ll have to beat to get there.

Tampa Bay’s record in recent seasons against the Caps hasn’t been very favorable either, the Bolts losing four of the last five meetings and going 3-7-2 since the start of the 2012-13 season.

A positive result in D.C. would be a considerable boost of confidence for the Lightning, proof they’re capable of playing and beating the best the league has to offer.

Quite simply, Tampa Bay needs to bank at least four points on this week’s three-game road trip and probably five if it wants to generate any upward movement in the standings.

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