WASHINGTON -- If the Washington Capitals needed a reminder of how difficult it is to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they got one in their 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final at Capital One Arena on Tuesday.
The Capitals made it look easy at times in winning the first two games of the best-of-7 series in Tampa, outscoring the Lightning 10-4.
But facing a desperate Lightning team trying to avoid falling in a 0-3 series hole, the Capitals got away from the details that made them so successful in those first two games. It didn't help that they haven't figured out how to stop Tampa Bay's power play, which went 2-for-5 Tuesday and is 5-for-12 (41.7 percent) in the series.
[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]
The Capitals hold a 2-1 series lead, but know they'll need to clean up their play in Game 4 here on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
"Nobody said it was going to be easy," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. "They're not going to give us two wins in a row in our house. We just have to play more desperate and play smarter."
Discipline was a problem for the Capitals, with the Lightning converting on their first two power plays to take a 2-0 lead. A tripping penalty by goaltender Braden Holtby at 12:57 of the first period led to Steven Stamkos' power-play goal, a left-circle blast over Holtby's left shoulder at 13:53 for a 1-0 lead.
Video: TBL@WSH, Gm3: Stamkos blasts one-timer for PPG
After Capitals center Lars Eller was called closing his hand on the puck 1:34 into the second, the Lightning worked the other side of the ice on the resulting power play, with Victor Hedman feeding Nikita Kucherov for a right-circle one-timer to make it 2-0 at 1:50.
"We know we have to stay out of the box," Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. "They have some good players, obviously some of the best around the League, so they're going to make it count if they get too many chances. That being said, our PK has got to be better."
It was the second game in a row Tampa Bay scored on its first two power plays. Washington was able to overcome it and win 6-2 in Game 2 on Sunday, partly because its power play produced a goal. The Capitals went 0-for-3 on the power play Tuesday.
A defensive-zone breakdown led to Hedman's goal from the slot that made it 3-0 at 3:37 of the second. The Capitals threatened to make a game of it when Brett Connolly scored from the left circle at 10:31 to cut the lead 3-1.
Video: TBL@WSH, Gm3: Connolly wires home Stephenson's pass
But after Washington failed to convert on a power play resulting from Ryan Callahan's roughing penalty at 13:20, Brayden Point scored from the left circle at 16:03 to increase Tampa Bay's lead to 4-1.
"They converted on the chances they had. We didn't," center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. "We had so many good looks. We just didn't score. The power play made everything. They scored. We didn't, and that's on us. Not good enough on the power play."
The Capitals outshot the Lightning 38-23, with Kuznetsov getting 12 shots on goal and scoring a 6-on-5 goal with 3:02 remaining in the third period that made it 4-2. Ovechkin had nine shots on goal and 18 shot attempts.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, playing better than he did in the first two games, was a contributing factor, but the Capitals also didn't help themselves.
In the two games in Tampa, the Capitals did a good job of diffusing the Lightning forecheck by moving the puck cleanly and quickly out of their defensive zone. The Lightning pressured them into making some sloppy passes in the defensive zone Tuesday and their zone exits weren't as clean.
That resulted in some sustained shifts in the Washington end.
"We didn't play as fast as we did the first couple of games and I think the reason for that is we kind of forced pucks through the middle," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "That was partly on us, but I think they forced us into some uncomfortable situations, and that's something we want to clean up."
Video: TBL@WSH, Gm3: Trotz on Game 3 defeat to Lightning
Back at home in front of a crowd that was excited about them being two wins from the Stanley Cup Final, the Capitals got away from the simple game and defensive structure through the neutral zone that's been a big part of their success. Playing that way at home has been a problem throughout the playoffs.
Washington is 7-1 on the road but 3-4 at home. Coach Barry Trotz said he'd like to see the Capitals play at home like it was a road game.
"When we're invested there, we're playing with real good focus," Trotz said. "I didn't think we were as focused as we have been normally on the road. So just pretend you're on the road. All the buildings are pretty well the same these days, so we'll go right at it."
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