Capitals

Capitals fall behind early and can't rally in loss to Lightning

Capitals

Frustration was evident in Washington's locker room following Wednesday night's 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders, as the Capitals knew they played well enough to win.

The Capitals had little time to dwell on Wednesday's loss, however, as they immediately boarded a flight to Tampa to prepare for the playoff-bound Lightning on Thursday evening.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, that frustration from Wednesday didn't translate to a better performance a day later. Washington was outplayed from the beginning and simply didn't do enough to put together a comeback, falling 5-1 to the Lightning behind two goals from Patrick Maroon.

After a slow start to the first period, the Capitals gained some life after drawing a power play 5:30 into the frame. But Nicklas Backstrom was called for holding just 14 seconds into the man advantage, quickly negating any momentum the visitors had.

Just four minutes later, Tampa was able to get on the board first. With traffic around the net, Mikhail Sergachev delivered a shot from the point that was deflected by Alex Killorn past Darcy Kuemper for the game's opening goal.

The puck seemed to be in the Capitals' defensive zone for the majority of the first period, as Washington registered just eight shots on goal throughout the opening 20 minutes.

With just 2.8 seconds remaining in the period, Tampa doubled its lead after Steven Stamkos beat Kuemper from the pocket off the draw. Stamkos' goal was crushing for the visitors, not only because it came right before the first intermission, but also because the strike came immediately after Kuemper made an outstanding glove save on Ian Cole.

 

The Capitals came out in the second period with a lot more fire than the first and were rewarded just 30 seconds in with a power play. Washington's best scoring chance during the advantage came via Tom Wilson, who nearly scored but rung iron on a shot attempt. 

Just a few minutes into the second period, winger T.J. Oshie -- who was noticeably absent from both power play shifts to begin the frame -- was ruled out for the remainder of the game due to an upper-body injury. 

The Lightning had multiple good looks throughout the second period, but Kuemper made a handful of excellent saves throughout the frame to keep the Capitals within two goals. Washington was finally able to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy with just under four minutes remaining in the period, as Craig Smith scored his seventh goal of the season from behind the red line on a pretty wraparound shot.

Any momentum the Capitals had to end the second period quickly faded in the final frame, as Maroon extended Tampa's lead back to two just 4:30 into the period. Kuemper stopped Tampa's original shot on net from Anthony Cirelli but couldn't locate the puck, which went in between his legs and right to Maroon for an easy goal.

Midway through the third period, the Capitals appeared to have an answer for Maroon's goal but were on the wrong end of a tough break.

A shot from Aliaksei Protas was saved by Vasilevskiy, but the Bolts' netminder dislodged the net in the process. Tom Wilson cleaned up the missed shot and fired it past Vasilevskiy, but the goal was waved off since the net was not in place.

Maroon was able to extend Tampa's lead to three just a few minutes later with his second goal of the game. The Lightning's victory was capped off by a short-handed empty netter via Erik Cernak with just under two minutes remaining.

Thursday's loss was the third straight game the Capitals have dropped and marked their sixth loss in their last seven games. Back-to-backs have not been kind to the Capitals this season; Thursday's loss moved Washington to 2-7-1 in back-to-backs this year. 

With just six games remaining and seven points back of Pittsburgh for the final Wild Card spot, Washington's postseason hopes hang on by just the slightest of margins.