[WATCH: All Stars vs. Capitals highlights]
1. 'Road trip from hell' or through hell?
Perhaps Tyler Seguin, who was again one of the best Dallas players on the ice with a power-play goal and a game-high seven shots, put it succinctly and put it best.
"Road trip from hell (is) over and we go home," he said. "Nothing you can really do now. I mean, (we've) got to go home (and) got to get points playing some good teams. But (we) have to find a way here."
Tuesday's loss followed a familiar pattern for the Stars, who did many things right, including getting a virtuoso goal from captain Jamie Benn with 1:45 left in the second period to tie the game at 3-3. But they didn't get a key stop from Kari Lehtonen when they needed one in the third before Alexander Radulov took a high-sticking penalty in the offensive zone with 1:58 left in regulation.
And that was that -- a sixth straight game without a win.
Six straight games where small lapses, or brief periods of discombobulated play, cost them wins -- and points.
"I think tonight we just needed to get to overtime. We needed to at least get one point. We didn't do it," Seguin said.
Video: Stars must bounce back from frustrating trip
2. Heading home to lick wounds and regroup for a final, desperate push
The Stars were without starting netminder Ben Bishop, veteran defenseman Marc Methot and forwards Jason Spezza and Brett Ritchie on this night.
Seguin took a hard hit at the Washington bench late in the first period from Devante Smith-Pelly that seemed to shake him up. And still, they gave as good as they got throughout a game that after a tepid first period turned out to be a rollicking, entertaining hockey game.
And when push came to shove, when the Stars needed to find a way to push a fourth puck across the line or to withstand a Caps push to get at least to overtime and collect a critical point, they couldn't find that moment.
"It's that time of year. We have injuries. We have guys banged up. So does every other team. I don't think that's an excuse," Seguin said.
"I don't think being tired's an excuse right now. That's more of a mindset than anything. It's playoff hockey right now. For us, it has been for a little while. We got to go home and salvage some points."
Tuesday's game marked another strong performance from John Klingberg, who added two more assists and logged 25:57 to lead all players. He was also a plus-2 on the night.
"It's the same way we've been talking about before," Klingberg said. "We knew it was going to be a tough road trip and a tough last game. We knew Winnipeg and Washington were probably the two best teams on this road trip. I think we really tried out there.
"We need way more pucks than we had. We let them control the game because they had more pucks. We're going to have to get it more deep and we have to get more pucks on net and get the pucks moving a lot more in the (offensive) zone because don't have any (offensive) zone time at all."
Klingberg also pointed to the effort the team has given, even if the results haven't been there.
"Yeah, we know we're still in the hunt, for sure. We're still in the mix," Klingberg said. "Now, we're going home and (we have to play) really important games at home here. We've just going to have to keep our emotions intact.
"We have some stuff we need to change, but overall, we're battling really hard and we're just going to have to stick with that."
Video: Hitchcock reacts to loss in Washington
3. Breaking down Washington's goals
Tuesday marked the first start for Lehtonen since Bishop reinjured his left knee in the first period of Sunday's 4-2 loss to Winnipeg. Bishop is awaiting results from an MRI, and with no evaluation on Bishop expected for two weeks, the chances of him returning during the regular season seem remote.
Which means that Lehtonen is going to be 'the man' if the Stars are going to claw their way back into a playoff spot.
Tuesday was an indication of just how tall an order this is likely to be. Lehtonen allowed two goals in 1:25 early in the second period to turn a 1-0 Dallas lead into a 2-1 deficit. The first came after Lehtonen had made a nice stop, but he couldn't turn aside a secondary shot by T.J. Oshie.
The second goal, though, was a long, high shot by Matt Niskanen from the Dallas blue line that seemed to confuse Lehtonen. Maybe it glanced off Greg Pateryn's stick, but regardless, Lehtonen seemed to have a clear view of the shot, which sailed over his right shoulder.
The most critical goal, however, was the game-winner by John Carlson with 4:59 left in regulation. For some reason, Lehtonen chose to play a puck instead of freezing it in spite of pressure from the Capitals. The clearing attempt never left the Dallas zone and Lehtonen was beaten glove side by Carlson, even though there was no traffic in front.
In all, Lehtonen stopped 28 of 32 shots. It was a performance that was, given the stakes, just not quite good enough.
And just not quite good enough will not cut it.
Video: DAL@WSH: Benn scores on fantastic individual effort
4. All hands on deck
Hard to ask more of Benn, whose tying goal was a thing of beauty as he took a loose puck in the neutral zone and drove through Dmitry Orlov before roofing a shot over Braden Holtby. Or Seguin or Klingberg either.
Radulov, in spite of his careless penalty at the end of the game, was a dynamo on this night playing with Mattias Janmark and Radek Faksa.
"I think we played decent game tonight, we came back from two goals like in the second period, it kind of shows we have a character -- we want to win, we want to work hard," Radulov said. "In the third period, there was a lot of chances before they scored the goal, and usually that's what happens.
"You don't bury your chances, get one in your net, (that) happened to us again."
But from Hitchcock's perspective, the sobering reality of the Stars' situation is that their best players may be maxed out, and that means the rest of the lineup is going to have show something they haven't on this road trip.
"We had players that really carried the ball in the last four games of this trip and we still couldn't get wins," Hitchcock said. "Obviously, I think to expect some of the guys that have played awful well to play better is unrealistic moving forward. I think we have to have more people join the fight. If you're not scoring, you'd better be terrorizing people with your work, and we did not get enough participation at the end when our big guys really played well. And we just need to get it.
"It doesn't matter who it is, and I know you win and lose as a team. But we have to get more people contributing either from a work standpoint or from a contribution standpoint because we can't have these same guys do it every night -- night in, night out -- and not have more people fall in place here. That's the bottom line."
Video: DAL@WSH: Radulov hits Seguin with sweet dish for PPG
5. Reality bites
By not getting at least a loser's point in Washington, the Stars lost ground to Los Angeles as the Kings fell in overtime to Winnipeg, while Colorado -- the first wild-card team in the Western Conference -- moved four points up on the Stars with a win over Chicago.
Dallas trails Anaheim, owners of the second wild-card spot, by two points, but the Ducks have a game in hand.
With eight games now left on their schedule -- four at home and four on the road -- the Stars will likely have to go 6-2 to give themselves a fighting chance at getting into the playoffs.
"It's a tough one and we know that there is nothing you can do about it," Radulov said. "Put it back behind you and go game-by-game, shift-by-shift. Right now, we're in a tough spot. We still have a chance, we're still in the rush. Those games at home are going to be huge.
"We need those points, we need those games. We need to be ready and play, and play hard."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Scott Burnside is a senior digital correspondent for DallasStars.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his podcast.