Unfortunately for the Bolts, the first 50 minutes were a train wreck.
The Lightning were flat from the opening puck drop, allowing the game to be played in their end for most of the first two periods. The Caps took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission then gained complete control with less than two minutes remaining in the second period, putting two past Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in a span of 1:15 to go up 3-0 in their eventual 4-2 victory.
The Lightning, who had a three-game win streak snapped in D.C., “just didn’t have (their) legs” according to head coach Jon Cooper.
By the time the Bolts found them, it was too late.
The Lightning get a chance to redeem themselves a little more than 24 hours later when they host the New York Islanders Saturday at Amalie Arena.
Some of the highlights (or lowlights) from Friday’s 4-2 loss ahead.
- Tampa Bay’s penalty kill had been solid of late after a rough start to the season. The Lightning killed 44-of-49 opponent power plays over the last 18 contests entering the game against Washington, a sparkling 89.8 percent success rate over that stretch.
The Capitals undid all of that hard work the Bolts’ did to bring their penalty kill numbers back to respectability in one game though.
Washington scored on its first two power plays and three-of-four overall and took control of the game with the man-advantage.
“Our special teams was not good tonight,” Cooper said. “That’s ultimately what cost us the game. I think we gave up eight shots on the first two power plays. That can’t happen.”
Particularly disheartening for the Lightning was how late in each power play the Caps were able to convert. The Lightning thought it had dodged a bullet on their first kill when Alex Ovechkin missed on a couple one-timer opportunities from the left circle. With eight seconds left on the power play, however, the Caps No. 8 got another chance and blistered a shot to the far corner past Vasilevskiy to record his 12th goal of the season.
On the second kill, just two seconds remained on the Caps power play when Jason Chimera redirected Evgeny Kuznetsov’s pass into the net on the back post.
“We were nearly out of it, and then we gave up those two goals,” Cooper said. “But, yeah, we need to do better on our special teams.”
- Speaking of Ovechkin, the Capitals did an excellent job setting up their superstar in the left circle, and Ovi rewarded his team with the opening goal at 7:09 of the first period.
Early in the power play, the Caps swung the puck over to the left circle for Ovechkin, who smacked a one-timer toward the goal that flew wide of the mark. A few seconds later, the puck made its way back over to Ovechkin, who sent a one-timer right into the chest of Vasilevskiy, who was able to make the stop without allowing a rebound.
With the power play winding down, though, Ovechkin got one more chance in the left circle and made it count, kissing the post with his wrist shot as it went into the net for a 1-0 Washington lead.
“Our penalty kill wasn’t good enough,” Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said.
- Throughout the Verizon Center press box, the walls are lined with pictures of former Capitals greats, 29 by my count plus four more nearly floor-to-ceiling canvas pictures in the elevator lobby.
What’s surprising to me was the lack of pictures of any current or former Washington Wizards, the NBA team sharing the arena with the Capitals.
I’m guessing someone changes out the photos between each sport, replacing the Capitals pictures with Wizards pics before an NBA game and vice versa, which seems tedious and a bit unnecessary.
It’s a nice touch, however.
- The backbreaking goal came with 42 seconds left in the second period, when the Lightning, already down 2-0 having just given up a second power-play goal, saw a puck redirected into their net off the skate of Marcus Johansson.
Going into the second intermission, the 3-0 deficit appeared too difficult to overcome, especially considering the Bolts got outshot 31-14 through two periods.
“I don’t know if we were a little too respectful of some of their skill or what,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “It wasn’t our game for 50 minutes, 45 minutes.”
- Tampa Bay fought back valiantly over the final half of the third period and scored twice within two minutes to cut the Caps’ lead in half and make it a game again.
Boyle netted his fifth goal of the season, capitalizing on a pretty behind-the-back feed from Callahan along the boards to produce Tampa Bay’s first goal.
Victor Hedman made it 4-2 with 7:15 remaining with his second goal this season, closing the gap further, but Capitals goalie Braden Holtby wasn’t about to give up a four-goal lead in the final 10 minutes.
“Obviously, we’re going to make a push in the third. It’s 4-0. They’re sitting back,” Stamkos said. “Let’s not kid ourselves, we got ourselves back in the game, but we can’t just expect to go down 4-0 and win the game.”
The Lightning ended up with 20 shots during the third, a season high for shots in a period this season (previous high was 16 in the 2nd period 10/23 at Winnipeg).
The Bolts didn’t do themselves any favors, however, by only producing 14 shots through the first 40 minutes of the game.
- The Lightning return to action Saturday when they host the New York Islanders at Amalie Arena. The quick turnaround will give the Bolts a chance to erase Friday’s performance from the memory bank.
“The good news is we play tomorrow so we don’t have to think about the crappy effort we gave tonight,” Stamkos said. “That’s the beauty of this sport. Hopefully we can bounce back (Saturday).”